With shutdown over, Cape Lookout National Seashore back open - WNCN: News, Weather

With shutdown over, Cape Lookout National Seashore back open

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HARKERS ISLAND, NC -

A popular tourist attraction is back open for the first time in more than two weeks.

Cape Lookout National Seashore in Carteret County has been closed ever since the federal government partially shut down on October 1, but now visitors are back at the park and ferries are up and running.

At the Island Ferry ticket booth in Beaufort, the phone rang all day on Thursday. People called wanting to know whether rides to Cape Lookout National Seashore are back. For the first time in sixteen days, the answer was yes.

"It's great, because that means I actually get to work now," said Cassie Alexander, a reservationist at Island Ferry.

Alexander takes reservations for trips to Cape Lookout lighthouse and the Shackleford Banks, two of the most popular spots at the national park.

When the park closed down, the ferry service practically stopped running. The only trips available were to less popular places like Carrot Island and Sand Dollar Island.

"Even though I've been here, I just haven't gotten a lot of hours, because it's hurt business so much," said Alexander.

The park notified ferry services first thing Thursday morning when the park re-opened.

"The park generates about $37 million in local revenue, and we are very much aware of the effect the shutdown had on them," said Wouter Ketel, Cape Lookout National Seashore spokesperson.

Alexander's boss says because of the shutdown, he lost about $15,000 in business between his two ferry services, Island Ferry and Lookout Cruises.

"It's been a pretty rough couple weeks," said Alexander.

The park lost revenue too, even though admission's free. The park estimates it lost about $80,000 in cabin rentals because several cabins at Long Point and Great Island were closed during the shutdown.

"We're down here for a few more days. We might look into taking a ferry out there. I heard it was beautiful out there," said Tammy Taylor, a tourist from Richmond, Virginia.

Visitors are happy to be back. Ketel says all 41 employees furloughed are back on the job and will receive back pay.

He estimates hundreds, possibly thousands of visitors would have come had the shutdown not happened.

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If the federal government shuts down, all the national parks in our area likely would too.

That includes one of the most popular tourism spots on the Crystal Coast: the Cape Lookout National Seashore, home of Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Shackleford Banks, where thousands of visitors come every year.

If the federal government can't pass an appropriation or continuing resolution, both these spots would likely close temporarily, said Pat Kenney, Cape Lookout National Seashore park superintendent.

"This morning's count: We had 90 some vehicles on the islands that are fishermen, primarily, so those would have to be removed," said Kenney.

Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile chain of barrier islands from the Beaufort Inlet to Ocracoke Inlet.

Kenney says no one would be allowed on any of those islands and the visitor center would close.

"We're hopeful Congress and the president will come to an agreement," said Kenney.

But if they don't, 41 park employees might be furloughed, including a biologist, park ranger, and maintenance worker, said Kenney.

That's something Harkers Island resident David Taylor doesn't agree with.

"I think it's terrible for the infighting in Congress. I believe that if anyone is going to lose their paychecks other than the hardworking people, why don't the congressmen and senators give up their salary until they work this out?" said Taylor.

Four park employees would continue working to provide park security, said Kenney.

If the government shuts down, the Park Service is prepared to notify all ferry operators not to take anyone to the islands.

That includes eight passenger ferries, three vehicle ferries, and several tour companies, which could lead to them losing business and having to furlough their own workers.

"One of the trips we do daily on the catamaran is we go to Cape Lookout. We do a 6 hour trip to Cape Lookout. That's our big trip of the day. If that shuts down, that's not only sad for us, but sad for the visitors," said Lisa Tuchek, a ferry operator with Lookout Cruises in Beaufort.

The shutdown could lead to other national parks closing, including Moores Creek National Battlefield in Wilmington and Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the Outer Banks.

Kenney says the last time a government shutdown affected Cape Lookout National Seashore was during President Bill Clinton's administration in the mid ‘90s, when Congress couldn't agree on a budget.

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