Well we’re now on day three of the government shutdown. The National Park is still closed, the hiking trails are still closed, and the majority of the beaches are still closed. Not only is this is a huge nuisance for residents and tourists, but it’s also affecting local businesses.
Let’s start with weddings. Imagine this: You’ve planned your dream wedding on one of the most beautiful and most photographed beaches in the world, only to find out you may not be allowed to step foot on it. What do you do? Well, if you’re Mary Bartolucci, owner of Island Style Weddings, you get on the phone and start making contingency plans.
“It’s almost like a storm,” Mary said. “You have to do the same sort of thing as if a storm was looming.”
Fortunately for Mary, several local businesses and organizations have offered to help. The Lutheran Church, Calypso Charters and Kekoa have all offered up their services in the event that Mary’s couples are unable to exchange vows on the National Park beaches. Woody’s Seafood Saloon even offered up its bar for brides and grooms to be, according to a post on its Facebook page. It may not be the wedding the couples originally planned, but we’re certain it will be just as memorable thanks to the kindhearted folks of St. John.
Mary said that all of the couples scheduled to marry on the beaches this month have taken the news pretty well. Most were stunned, she said, but accepted the fact that it was out of their hands.
“Really, what are you going to do? We’re really at the mercy of this,” Mary said.
Other businesses feeling the crunch are the ones accustomed to sending tourists out on the water each day. Cruz Bay Watersports, for example, said it can no longer rent its dinghies as they must stay close to shore. And as we wrote Tuesday, the waters close to shore are technically part of the National Park meaning they’re off limits too.
During this time of year, the shop rents about four to six dinghies a day. So with each day that passes, the shop loses additional revenue.
“We’re talking about a lot of money,” said Brooke Callwood, an employee at the shop.
However there are a few businesses that are taking advantage of the shutdown – Palm Tree Charters happens to be one of them. The boat charter company wasn’t scheduled to reopen for the season until Saturday, however the shutdown prompted them to set sail a few days earlier than expected
“The shutdown is affecting us in a positive manner,” said John Brandi, owner of Palm Tree Charters. “The national park beaches are closed, but people want to go to the beach. So they are calling us to go beach hopping and snorkeling over in the BVI.”
And just a reminder, even though the barricades may have been moved or the signs taken down, National Park beaches and parking lots remain closed. There’s been a bit of civil disobedience here and there, but overall people are adhering to the shutdown, according to Mike Anderson, Deputy Superintendent of the park. And as of Wednesday morning, rangers only had to ask seven groups of people to leave the beaches.
“Everyone has been cooperative and left the area when they were advised by law enforcement rangers the park was closed,” Mike said.
So what exactly will happen if you get caught on the beach or in the National Park?
“On the first contact with someone violating the closure, rangers are generally issuing a warning and advising visitors to leave. As a matter of policy, law enforcement rangers can, but are not required to issue a verbal warning first upon contacting someone for violating a park regulation,” Mike said. “If someone refuses to leave the park, the law enforcement ranger can issue a citation if necessary to gain compliance with the park closure.”
And those citations can carry a monetary fine, according to Mike, .
“The maximum fine for the violation of any park regulation is $5000 and/or six months in jail. The person may be required to appear before a federal magistrate at a later court date,” Mike said. “… The collateral fine for trespass, payable by credit card, is a total of $50, which can be mailed in to the Central Violations Bureau. If the person decides to appear before a federal magistrate and contest their citation and if they are subsequently found guilty, the federal magistrate would set a new fine. Fines collected from citations and court trials go to the general fund for the treasury and do not enhance NPS operating budget.”
Now there have also been questions swirling around the internet about the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Act, which states that the public “has and shall continue to have the right to use and enjoy the shorelines and to maximize public access to and along the shorelines.” Well we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but federal law supersedes territory law.
In the meantime, we’d like to know how you all are dealing with the shutdown. Let us know in our comments section or over on our Facebook page. And if you encounter a ranger, please be kind and realize that he or she is only doing what they’ve been directed to do by the federal government. Let’s cross our fingers and hope this ends soon.