Federal employees aren’t the only ones nervous about making ends meet during the government shutdown. Hotel and restaurant owners near Joshua Tree National Park say the shutdown has left them without their usual flow of customers and that employees are concerned about paying their bills and making rent.
Morgan Night, the owner of Hicksville Trailer Palace in Joshua Tree, California, said the motel is popular for people coming to the area to visit the National Park, but since the shutdown, he’s seen business going down. If it drags on much longer, he said, “We’re going to be getting calls from guests saying, ‘We were only coming to go to the park,’ and we’re going to have to decide whether to be jerks about our cancelation policy.”
“I can tell them to call [President Donald] Trump and get their money back,” he added.
Hicksville has six employees and Night said they’re paid by occupant. In a phone call last week, he said that they had no guests booked for Friday night. “I can’t remember the last time that happened,” he said. “[And] it’s not like [the staff] have these huge savings. Everyone is worried about buying groceries and paying their bills. It’s horrible.”
Heidi Grunt, the owner of Twentynine Palms Inn, another hotel near the park, said she hasn’t seen a major uptick in room cancelations so far, but said the number of reservations has dipped. The restaurant at the inn has been much slower, too, she said, due to having fewer guests and because it was often frequented by Parks Service workers before the shutdown. Now, however, those workers have been furloughed without pay.
“Our community does rely on that business,” Grunt said. “We were pretty good for the first week of January, but since then things have really taken a dive.”
Though employees at Twentynine Palms Inn are not paid by occupant, most of the business’ 60 staffers are paid hourly, and with fewer guests and restaurant patrons, many employees will have to have their hours cut back. “We like to sort of be creative and come up with other ideas for people to do, but you need an income,” Grunt said.
Erica Roche, the manager of the restaurant at Twentynine Palms, told ThinkProgress that around this time of year, they would traditionally expect about 100 people a day. Now, they’re typically seeing no more than 50 people a day. The decline, she said, is troubling.
“I mean, it terrifies me for our park people and the people who are paid by the government, and then it snowballs because we [don’t see them anymore],” she said.
With parks workers furloughed, some of the protected trees in Joshua Tree National Park have been cut down and the park has been vandalized. Toilets and garbage cans are overflowing, and visitors are driving and hiking where they shouldn’t be and “getting into altercations over campsites and parking sites,” according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
Night, the Hicksville owner, says the responsibility for that damage and the situation parks employees have found themselves in clearly belongs to President Donald Trump, who said in December that he would gladly kickstart the government shutdown to get $5 billion in funding for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. Since that time, nearly 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or forced to work without pay, but Trump has refused to budge on the issue.
“It’s all on one person,” Night, the Hicksville owner, said. “I know [Trump] has zero respect for the National Parks anyway because he keeps giving them away to oil companies, but they’re our treasure. You need nature…. I hope that, soon, he pulls his head out of his ass.”