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Philpott Lake workers return
Lake among areas re-opened after shutdown

Friday, October 18, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin staff writer

Craig “Rocky” Rockwell, project manager at Philpott Lake, received the call at 7 a.m. Thursday: He and his staff could return to work, effective immediately.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed Philpott Lake’s recreation area at 8 p.m. Oct. 10 as a result of the partial government shutdown, which ended shortly after midnight Thursday morning. Although workers at Philpott stayed on the job through Oct. 10, some federal employees had been out of work since Oct. 1.

Programs managed by the National Park Service, such as all visitor services on the Blue Ridge Parkway, also were closed during the shutdown. As of Thursday, they reopened as well.

“I’d been watching the news nonstop, ad nauseam,” Rockwell said. “I knew by the time I went to bed (Wednesday) night that we’d be getting the call to come back (Thursday or Friday). I was a little surprised to get the call as early as I did” from Philpott’s chief of operations.

On Thursday, Rockwell said, his main goal was to get through the backlog of emails and messages that accumulated while Philpott was closed.

“I’ve always been a manager that believes in lots of communication with the outside world,” Rockwell said, and he had plenty of communications to get caught up on over several days.

According to AP reports, the budget deal signed early Thursday grants back pay to workers who had been furloughed during the government shutdown, such as the employees at Philpott Lake.

“That’s a difficult subject for taxpayers to think about,” Rockwell said, but added that taxpayers can rest assured that the work that was missed during the furlough will be completed, even if the staff at Philpott has to double up over the next week to finish it.

“I’ve never been through a closure where they didn’t give retro(active) pay,” Rockwell said — and he’s been through a few with the national park system, including the numerous one-day shutdowns of the Reagan administration and the 1995-1996 shutdown during the Clinton administration, which lasted a total of 27 days.

“I think we’re doomed to go through this about once every 10 to 15 years,” he said, “to remind ourselves that there are consequences to standing your ground.”

One element of Philpott Lake that was not adversely affected by the shutdown was construction of the Philpott marina.

According to Jeff Turton, project engineer for the Henry County Public Service Authority, construction continued throughout the shutdown. The property is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Turton said, but because the property is leased to the county, the county still had access to it.

In addition to Philpott Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway also is welcoming visitors again, according to a news release.

“We are excited and happy to be back at work and welcoming visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway,” said Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods. “October is historically the most visited month on the parkway, and we’re pleased we can end our season on a high note, providing the high quality visitor experiences that people love.”


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