Eight dead Christmas trees greeted federal employees when they returned to work last Tuesday at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center. It wasn’t the merriest of sights, but Carrie Reece, executive director for the facility’s foundation, said it didn’t dampen the celebration.
“We are all really glad to be back to work at the Trails Center,” she wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune. “There are lots of communications to sort through and new adjusted plans to be made concerning what we missed.”
The Casper museum’s federal employees hadn’t been permitted to work since Dec. 21 due to the partial government shutdown. But President Donald Trump announced last Friday that the government will reopen for three weeks as negotiations continue over the funding of immigration and border security.
It’s unclear exactly how many of Wyoming’s roughly 5,000 federal employees were directly affected by the shutdown. Some were furloughed while others continued to work without pay. The 35-day stalemate, the longest in U.S. history, stemmed from lawmakers’ impasse over funding for a border wall.
Reece, who isn’t a federal employee, continued working throughout the shutdown. Her job largely involves grant writing, which she was able to do from home. But the director said she was deeply worried for her co-workers and their families.
“I sincerely hope the representative leadership in Wyoming will hear the voices of local families who suffered and consider their sacrifices before allowing something like this to happen again in mid-February,” she wrote.
Reece previously explained that the museum is one of Casper’s most popular visitor attractions. Winter is especially busy because visitors in town for the holidays often stop by the museum, and schools throughout the state tend to organize field trips to the facility during the colder months.
“It’s a really valuable resource for educators,” she said, adding that the museum has special tour guides for students and brings in musicians and historical re-enactors to help engage children. “We strive for really, really happy visitors.”
The 11,000-square-foot center houses a variety of exhibits and programs design to educate visitors about the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express trails, according to its website. The trails all passed through central Wyoming.
Although Reece takes great pride in the center, she said in her email Thursday that she was even more concerned for federal employees who work in areas related to public safety.
“The work that others do concerning safety and infrastructure is even more important,” she wrote. “Controlling our power plants, conducting oil and gas inspections and air traffic safety are really critical, and these employees suffered the most by being forced to work without pay.”
David Case, an air traffic controller who worked without pay at the control tower at the Casper/Natrona County International Airport, told the Star-Tribune last week that the shutdown did affect public safety.
This week, he delivered a letter, written last week, to the office of U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi in the Dick Cheney Federal Building in Casper.
“Instead of focusing on air traffic, we’re forced to be thinking about whether we will have a paycheck,” he wrote. “We’re wondering how long this madness will continue. That’s not how it’s supposed to be and it’s dangerous.”
Although the shutdown has temporarily ended, Case said he believed the letter’s message was still relevant, given that the disagreement that led to the shutdown hasn’t been permanently resolved.