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It wasn’t open for long.
After reopening with a new company late this summer, the Peaks of Otter Lodge was just starting to head in the right direction and get its feet back on track.
Now the shutdown.
The Lodge is operated by a private company, Delaware North, and none of its employees are federal employees. Nevertheless, it was forced to close when the federal government began a partial shutdown on Oct. 1. Of the Lodge’s 88 employees, only two are working right now.
“It’s just me and Tommy,” said Robert Peters, the Lodge’s general manager. “Everybody else had to file for unemployment.”
Tommy is Tommy Ransone, the Lodge’s facilities manager. Peters just came onboard on Aug. 19, shortly after the Lodge reopened.
“It’s unfortunate for my staff,” he said. “A lot of them, it’s their primary job.”
The shutdown-forced closure couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Peters said the Lodge finally hired a chef.
“We brought back the Sunday brunch two weeks ago,” Peters said. “Then they shut us down.”
Customer traffic was heavy on the second Sunday that the brunch was back, just before the Lodge had to close.
“We normally average 1,000 to 1,200 people [in the dining room] every weekend,” Peters said, giving a snapshot of what this government action is costing the Lodge.
Peters said the shutdown has really “thrown us for a loop” because the Lodge had just gotten a lot of momentum going after its July 15 reopening. Furthermore, this would normally be the Lodge’s peak time of year. He was planning three buffets — breakfast, lunch and dinner — and extended hours for the shuttle that goes up to Sharp Top.
“Now that’s all come to a halt,” he said.
Peters estimates that being shut down is costing the Lodge between $100,000 and $150,000 a week in lost revenue.
Why did the government shutdown close the Lodge?
Peters said that he e-mailed the park superintendent the evening of Sept. 30, the night before the shutdown asking that the Lodge remain open, noting that Va. 43 would remain open. Va. 43, which runs between the Peaks of Otter on its route between Bedford and Buchanan, uses a short section of the Parkway and passes virtually right by the Lodge. He also noted that the entire Blue Ridge Parkway remains open because the park superintendent lobbied to keep it open.
“You [the park superintendent] lobbied to keep the Parkway open and couldn’t lobby to keep us open?” Peters said. “We are not even government employees.”
Peters said he was told that the contract Delaware North has with the National Park Service specifies that, if the government shuts down, it has to shut down.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Peters commented.
Peters gets upset every time he watches the news. He noted that federal employees are going to get back pay, for the time they were out of work, once the shutdown ends. That’s fine, but Peters said the government also needs to think about the private concessionaires that work on National Park property. He said they need to get some money, too.
He has a plan in place for an immediate reopening as soon as the shutdown ends. Meanwhile Peters, who is living at the Lodge while he looks for a house in the area, is spending his free time hanging out in the Lodge’s bar area. He isn’t drinking. The bar area has really nice, new 52-inch high definition TVs.
The Blue Ridge Parkway hosts approximately 70,000 visitors on average each day in October; nationally, more than 715,000 visitors a day frequent the National Park System. Nationwide the NPS stands to lose approximately $450,000 per day in lost revenue from fees collected at entry stations and fees paid for in-park activities such as cave tours, boat rides and camping. Gateway communities across the country see about $76 million per day in total sales from visitor spending that is lost during a government shutdown.
State parks remain open
All 36 Virginia State Parks remain open to the public. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, managers of the park system, have received numerous inquiries from the public concerned that the state parks are being affected by the federal government shutdown.
For more information on Virginia’s 36-award winning Virginia State Parks call toll-free 1-800-933-PARK (7275) or go to www.virginiastateparks.gov.