When the government shut down yesterday, the answer was clear about national parks: closed until further notice. But what about national forests? The answer was anything but clear.
I began asking questions Monday morning, the day before the shutdown, only to find every forest spokesperson saying the same thing: "I'm not allowed to talk about that. Here's a number in Washington. Call them." That number didn't even go to the Forest Service's headquarters, it went to the Office of Budget and Management, which had a prompt telling reporters not to leave a message, but email them. So I emailed and waited all day. The response finally came, but it was a generic one-sheet about everything I already knew and nothing about accessing national forests.
Then came Tuesday when all Forest Service websites had a new statement posted to their homepage: "Due to the lapse in federal government funding, the U.S. Forest Service, as with other federal agencies, is closed with the exception of certain essential services." But what that really means is that the offices are closed, not the forests. Or, at least that's the case with Angeles National Forest.
"You can go for a hike, but all facilities are closed down," said Captain Mike Mercado, the forest's law enforcement captain. His team, along with firefighters, are considered essential in protecting life and property. If you do go for a hike (or go hunting, picnicking, etc.), they will likely be the only forest personnel you'll see (also out there: CHP, Caltrans, and L.A. County, all who patrol and maintain the forest's primary roads).
But before you go, know this: restrooms, visitor centers, parking lots that can be gated are all closed. Even campgrounds, nearly all which are first come, first serve, are closed.
Most importantly, you'll still need an Adventure Pass, according to Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras. And because visitor centers are closed, the only places to purchase them are local commercial outlets around the forest. And what if the government shutdown drags on and businesses are sold out? Too bad: the forest employees who would restock them are furloughed. Quite the Catch 22.
Luckily, some businesses like Crystal Lake Cafe and Newcomb's Ranch Restaurant remain open. But no such luck for Adam's Pack Station, home to the best pulled pork in L.A. County; it was closed because it's located behind the now-locked gates at Chantry Flats.
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