NEW WAVERLY — He only caught two fish Friday, but Derrick Taylor enjoyed his outing on a sunny day at Stubblefield Lake in the Sam Houston National Forest. He noticed, though, that he and a friend were among the few gathered at the lake.
Taylor, 37, said he comes out to fish about two or three times a year at Stubblefield and typically sees more people fishing or using the campground. Taylor didn’t mind the solitude on Friday.
“It’s a nice day to be out,” said Taylor.
On the 14th day of the federal government shutdown, the Sam Houston National Forest remained open to visitors but had limited services available due to the lapse in funding. The ranger’s office has closed and some campgrounds have been shut down.
National Park Spots- including historic trails, monuments and other
Alibates Flint Quarries- Fritch
Amistad- Del Rio
Big Bend- Rio Grande
Big Thicket- Beaumont
Chamizal- El Paso
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro- New Mexico
Fort Davis- Fort Davis
Guadalupe Mountains- Salt Flat
Lake Meredith- Fritch
Lyndon B Johnson- Johnson City
Padre Island- Corpus Christi
Palo Alto Battlefield- Brownsville
Rio Grande- Rio Grande
San Antonio Missions- San Antonio
Waco Mammoth- Waco
Angelina National Forest-Zavalla
Davy Crockett National Forest- Kennard
Sabine National Forest-Hemphill
Sam Houston National Forest- New Waverly
Other national parks and forests across the country also have been affected by the shutdown, with some reports of trash piling up or restrooms in need of cleaning. And on Friday, The Washington Post reported that three people had died in accidents at National Parks Service sites since the shutdown, calling into question the government’s decision to leave them accessible with so few staff or services.
The victims, the Post reported, were a 14-year-old girl who fell 700 feet to her death at the Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona, a man who died after suffering a head injury from a fall at Yosemite National Park in California, and a woman killed by a falling tree at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee.
“During the partial government shutdown national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures,” Jeremy Barnum, spokesperson for the National Parks Service, wrote in an email to the Houston Chronicle on Thursday. “Services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full service restrooms will not be operating.”
In Sam Houston National Forest, the ranger station was deserted Friday and only a few cars were parked at Lone Star Hiking Trail No. 1. The forest encompasses more than 160,000 acres in an area including Huntsville, Conroe, Cleveland and Richards.
Cathy Murphy, 72, enjoyed a New Year’s Day trek on the Lone Star Hiking Trail with about 20 others.
Despite the lack of trash collection service, the trail was clean; no trash bins are on the route, said Murphy, a board member and volunteer for the Lone Star Hiking Trail Club since 1995. Murphy said she was notified by a forest staff member that Cagle and Stubblefield Campgrounds are closed, as well as Scott’s Ridge.
Murphy said the New Year’s Day hike was her first since knee replacement surgery in late November, and she was proud to complete two miles. She said the hikers encountered other groups enjoying the forest.
“It was fun to see families out on New Year’s Day, taking the kids out into the woods,” said Murphy by phone on Thursday. “We usually have a pretty good turnout on New Year’s Day because it’s (a) new year’s resolution and folks just want to start out the new year on a healthy note.”
Walker County Judge Danny Pierce said recent wet, cold weather may have reduced the impact of the reduced services at the national forest. Even so, he expects his office — which has no oversight over federal facilities — might get some calls from residents as the weather improves.
“It’s a big draw, especially for the Houston region,” said Pierce. “It’s a great place for hiking. It’s a beautiful forest. It’s a good buffer between us and the metropolitan areas. It’s kind of breath of fresh air.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which includes the National Forest Service, said in a news release that certain services such as law enforcement and disaster response would continue during the shutdown.
However, recreation sites across the U.S. National Forest system would close “unless they are operated by external parties under a recreational special use permit,” the release said. Visitors can enter closed sites at their own risk.
Stephanie Garcia, spokesperson for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said some Texas national park sites have received assistance from state parks agency. For example, she said, some state employees are maintaining the grounds and livestock at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which is near the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.
At Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, gates remain open, but campgrounds, visitor centers and restrooms are closed, and no rangers are on duty to issue back-country permits or provide information.
With no staffers to empty trash, clean facilities, lead educational programs or check people in and out, officials closed the park’s three campgrounds — Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village and Cottonwood. Most visitors appeared to be sticking to the no-camping dictate, but some backpackers were spotted this week pitching tents at remote sites in the Chisos Mountain Basin and in the desert at the sprawling park.
A few heavily trafficked areas at the park, including the Santa Elena Canyon trailhead and trail, Old Maverick Road and the Boquillas border crossing, were also closed.
All other trails, however, including the park’s iconic South Rim trail and Lost Mines Trail, remain open, and a steady stream of guests checked in and out of the Chisos Mountain Lodge and bought supplies at the basin’s park store, which are operated by Forever Resorts, a private concessionaire. The park’s two service stations are open, too.
“At this time our operations have not been affected,” Louis Carpenter, operations manager for the lodge, said Friday. “We’re open for business. This is our high season and our occupancy rate has not been affected.”
— Correspondent Pam LeBlanc contributed to this story.