GC VILLAGE — A month after a federal judge shut down the Department of the Interior’s Internet connections, Grand Canyon National Park officials continue to do things the old-fashioned way.
Maureen Oltrogge, GCNP public affairs officer, said the shutdown has affected the park in several ways. The main problems have revolved around various types of financial transactions ranging from not being able to take on contractors for services above $2,500 to a disruption of service for commercial tour operators who pay fees through electronic debits.
"We also couldn’t send out bills for utilities and rents and franchise fees," Oltrogge said. "So we’ll have catchup issues. Payroll has been affected."
Across the National Park Service and other Interior agencies, piles of paper have been replacing e-mail messages. Although most of the problems have been internal, the pulling of the plug has also impacted tourists seeking information on the Internet.
"In the summer months, we might get a half-million hits on our Web site," Oltrogge said. "This time of year, we may get 200,000 hits on the Web site and that’s still significant. But I haven’t seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls, which means their seeking information in other ways or they’re giving up, which I hope they’re not doing."
The NPS Web site, which includes information or links on all parks, got 3.5 million hits last July, 2.5 million in September.
Oltrogge and others in the NPS have to at least be pleased that the shutdown did not occur in the middle of the summer. Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks get more inquiries than Grand Canyon.
"The good thing for visitors is it’s not during the summer months," Oltrogge said. "This is still the slower part of the season. If it had occurred then, everything becomes more difficult."
With the park’s Internet site down, those seeking tourism information can visit other places on the Web for details on heading to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Office of Tourism, Amfac Parks and Resorts and most other local businesses have their own sites with some park information or links to places where they can receive those details.
Oltrogge said the Internet shutdown has affected the park’s various units in different ways. For example, the backcountry office has not seen a significant increase in the number of calls for backcountry reservations.
This is the time of year when the river permit office accepts names to be placed on a waiting list for Colorado River permits. Continuing interest forms were made available (the deadline for returning those to the river office is Jan. 31) and confirmation was supposed to occur via e-mail, so that process has also been affected.
"Other than that, we have not seen a great change in the number of calls," Oltrogge added. "In some ways, it’s hard to measure this time of year."
Oltrogge encourages businesses to give out the park’s phone number (638-7888) for those looking for information.
"We’re asking the public to bear with us just a little longer," she said. "We’re looking forward to getting back online and providing those services."
Oltrogge said she receives periodical memos with updates on the Internet situation, but there has been no definitive date for getting back online. An upgraded security system must be installed before the operation is re-established.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth shut down the agency’s computer system on Dec. 5 so the department could repair security problems that he said threatened the Indians’ royalty money.
Lamberth is presiding in a five-year-old lawsuit brought by Indians over the Department of the Interior’s handling of a trust fund for royalties from their land.