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Friends group, others step up to partially staff Hawaii Volcanoes National Park during government shutdown

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is being partially staffed during the federal government shutdown thanks to a little help from its friends.

Elizabeth Fien, executive director of Friends of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, said the nonprofit organization has received about $114,000 in donations or commitments to support the park during the lapse in appropriations.

Funds are being used to bring back some of the park’s furloughed employees, including a few interpretive rangers, resource management and protection rangers, and maintenance staff, as of Tuesday, she said. The park remains partially open.

Fien said the donations, which include a commitment from Mayor Harry Kim to fund three days for about $38,000 in total, should allow the group to support those positions through Jan. 9.

If the shutdown, which is now 2 weeks old, doesn’t end by then?

“I’m going to continue in my role as chief beggar,” she said.

Visitors continue to flock to the park.

Chain of Craters Road is closed, as well as the Jaggar Museum, deemed unsafe following last year’s caldera collapses. No entry fees are being collected.

Fien said her organization already stepped up by staffing the Kilauea Visitor Center each day with a volunteer to interact with the public and explain the natural wonders around them.

She said the Volcano House is helping by cleaning restrooms at the visitor center, while Volcano Art Center is looking after its own gallery facility.

“All the partners kind of did a wraparound, with whatever our abilities are,” Fien said.

Kim said the county’s contributions, if needed, would likely come from the Department of Research and Development.

He said Fien reached him on New Year’s Eve to explain the need for donations, and that he has been helping her get in contact with the governor’s office and state tourism officials for additional help.

“At that time, I made up my mind … ,” Kim said.

“We talk a lot about how bad people of Puna had suffered, and here is an opportunity” to help, he added.

Fien said the county’s contribution would be needed if the shutdown lasted beyond Sunday.

During past government shutdowns, the park closed completely.

Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said in an email Monday that the hazards are reduced now, since the volcano isn’t erupting.

“This is also the busiest travel season for visitation,” she added.

“In addition, we have the unsolicited support of our partners in keeping the Kilauea Visitor Center open and performing other critical services. We truly appreciate this support and are grateful that visitors so far haven’t had to be turned away from experiencing the park.”

In the email, Ferracane couldn’t say how much revenue the park is losing since the staff responsible for calculating that are furloughed.

Ferracane, who also is furloughed, directed questions to the nonprofit Thursday.

For information about how to donate, visit www.fhvnp.org/donate.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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