LANSING (WWJ/AP) – After a tiring journey from Los Angeles to Detroit for a wedding, David Zorn and Jennifer Li were looking forward to a few days of camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan. Instead, their visit was cut short Tuesday as the park closed because of the partial government shutdown.
“It’s a bummer,” Zorn said as he and Li ate a hurried breakfast of scrambled eggs and baked beans, heated over the dying embers of their campfire. “It’s something we were not closely following, but we didn’t think it would actually affect us. It’s one of those things that doesn’t hit home until you’re booted out.”
Effects of the impasse in Congress over federal spending and the health care law rippled across Michigan. Government workers were furloughed, national parks, forests and wildlife refuges were shut down and National Guard installations were left with skeleton crews.
In Grand Rapids, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum closed, and staffers scrambled to provide access to an exhibition that’s part of the international ArtsPrize competition. Works by two artists on display in the main lobby were moved to an outdoor tent.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said the state budget would take a big hit from Congress’ failure to agree on a spending plan by the end of the fiscal year. The federal government provides over 40 percent of Michigan’s budget, or about $20 billion, covering services such as Medicaid and food aid for the needy.
“If the federal government is shut down for just a day or two, the effects on Michigan’s residents will be minimal,” Snyder said. “A longer-term shutdown, though, could have consequences.”
He said the partial shutdown was “yet another reminder of a fact we know too well: There’s something wrong with our national political culture today.”
The state will lose $18 million each day the shutdown continues, Budget Director John Nixon said.
“It’s a disruption to our families. It’s a disruption to our economy,” Nixon said. “This is just ridiculous.”
The state sent furlough notices to unions representing tens of thousands of state workers who administer federal programs such as unemployment, welfare and food stamps in case the stalemate drags on, but officials said it wasn’t clear how many might be in jeopardy.
About 900 Michigan National Guard military technicians could be out of work. Cancellation of training and assignments at Camp Grayling in Otsego County, Fort Custer near Battle Creek and other installations could affect 12,000 Guard members.
“We can and will continue to support key military operations that are necessary for the safety and welfare of our citizens,” said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
About 4,200 civilian employees at the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command in Warren are also affected. The shutdown put them on furlough and many of them might not get paid in the near future.
Paul Veselenak is president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1658, which represents about 5,000 workers at TACOM, which also is known as the Detroit Arsenal. Veselenak says: “People are frustrated. People are upset.”
Among those immediately affected were visitors to Michigan’s three national forests and three national parks, popular attractions during fall color season, plus the tourist businesses that rely on them.
Thousands of school kids who were hoping for a real-life trip through history at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Monroe County were turned away as the park was forced to close. Scott Bentley, the park’s superintendent, said the shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time, as they’re commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
“Many studies show that being able to bring students to the place where history occurred brings it alive in their hearts and minds and really impacts them for their entire lives, so field trips are a crucial part of the education process. Of course, we hope to be able to reschedule some schools, but it’s difficult with their calendars and curriculum needs to make it fit exactly right as well,” he said.
At Sleeping Bear Dunes, where about 60 staffers were sent home, ranger Jim Dal Sasso made the rounds of the Platte River Campground informing visitors they would have to leave.
“It’s affecting a lot of people,” he said. “There’s some that are quite upset. We had a group of 60 school kids who were coming tomorrow to float down the Platte River and have an educational program. I had to call the principal and cancel that.”
Bob and Tricia Sorensen, retirees from Vernon Hills, Ill., arrived Monday night in their motor home with plans to stay four or five days.
“As a camper, I’m just sad. It’s frustrating,” Bob Sorensen said. “But I feel worse for the employees here who will have to go home without pay.”
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