HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The impact of the partial federal government’s shutdown is starting to impact the lives of outdoorsmen and women. One of the first casualties will be anglers fishing in this weekend’s West Virginia Bass Federation Nation qualifying event on the Monongahela River in Morgantown.
The river will be staged out of the Prickett’s Fort ramp in Marion County, but anglers competing will not be able to lock down river and will be limited to the Opekiska pool.
“We’re not going to be able to accommodate special events right now due to the government shutdown,” said Carol Davis, Spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh Division. “All commercial navigation will operation, but we can’t handle any special events.”
The Corps sparsely runs the Opekiska and Hildebrande Locks and Dams. Typically they only operate on weekends during the boating season. Bass tournament organizers have had success in getting special use permits for events on the Upper Monongahela River, but it won’t be the case this weekend.
“What’s going to happen this weekend is still up in the air,” said Federation Nation Conservation Director Jarrod Harmon. “Our board is considering our options. It’s just a really late date to be given this news since so many guys have made hotel reservations and already practiced on this body of water.”
Although the Corps is a branch of the Army and funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, it has not been immune to this weeks furloughs of non-essential federal employees.
“Certain offices are different, but for the most part we are all funded by the Department of Defense,” said Chuck Minskier, Spokesman for the Corps’ Huntington District. “About half of our staff has been sent home.”
The Huntington District has 800 employees, 450 have been furloughed, but essential operations continue. Locking operations on the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers are unaffected for the time being. Minsker added the drawdowns on Summersville Lake for the Gauley Rafting season will also be unaffected.
“The plans are to continue the whitewater releases as normal at Summersville Dam,” Minsker said. “We’ve got some time sensitive maintenance work at the dam scheduled so those releases will continue as planned.”
Should anybody on the river have a problem though, help may be harder to find. The National Park Service Staff in the New River Gorge National River is down to seven law enforcement personnel.
“We’ll have seven folks still available to respond to emergencies,” said Chief River Ranger Jeff West. “It’s not quite as robust as it normally is, but we’ll still have boats on the water as well as help from the shore.”
However, throughout the park property, lands and recreation areas are closed. Campers were immediately forced out and other shutdown accommodations were made.
“The river access are still open which makes it tough, but we’ll do the best we can,” West said. “Campgrounds are closed, facilities are closed, some of our major trail systems are closed. It’s kind of a hit or miss thing.”
West said although technically closed and technically off limits to the public, rangers will be very discretionary in how they interact with users in the park.
“Going down and fishing on the river is okay,” he said. “Even if I wanted to close an area this big and had my full staff, there’s no way I could effectively do it and besides, that’s not the point of things.”