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N.H. campgrounds forced to close due to shutdown

Some privately run campgrounds in New Hampshire’s White Mountains National Forest will be forced to close ahead of the lucrative Columbus Day weekend because of the federal government shutdown, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The closure of the 21 campgrounds and hundreds of camping sites comes at a particularly bad time: Early October is peak season for leaf-peeping and the long weekend is the third-best for tourism in the state, behind the Fourth of July and Labor Day, according to New Hampshire tourism officials. Last year, some 600,000 people visited over the weekend, pumping nearly $90 million into the economy.

Kent Tower owns Pro Sport Inc. of Campton and has run campgrounds under contract with the federal government since 1992. He was informed yesterday afternoon that his 21 facilities will have to close unless Congress breaks the budget stalemate.

Tower said he’ll close by Wednesday – and lose $50,000 from the fully booked campsites – unless a deal is reached.

“I’m really disappointed in the system,” he said. “This shouldn’t have happened. We operate without any day-to-day interactions or interference from the forest service.”

Snow on Memorial Day weekend and nagging rains in June and July had already hurt his business so Tower was hoping for a strong Columbus Day weekend to help offset some of those losses.

“It’s a sad way to close it out,” he said.

About 165 state and private campgrounds that do not contract with the federal government will remain open.

“I don’t think we can speculate on a financial impact, but one of the great things about New Hampshire is that not only do we have the national forest campgrounds, we have private campgrounds and state campgrounds,” said Tai Freligh, communications manager for the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development. “There are a lot of options. There’s quite a bit of availability.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service said not all campground operators have been notified yet because federal offices are down to skeleton crews during the shutdown. National parks and monuments are also closed.

Spokesman Leo Kay said private businesses that contract with the federal government must close because rangers and other federal employees provide support, services and oversight.

“The private concessionaires are unfortunately impacted by the shutdown, as are many private businesses,” Kay said in an email.

He said the closures in the 800,000-acre White Mountain forest mirror those happening across the country at sites that contract with the National Park Service and other federal land management agencies. He said the same policy was in place during the government shutdown in 1995 and 1996.

The government instituted a partial shutdown Tuesday after Congress failed to agree on a spending bill. House Republicans want to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act, in return for a spending plan that would have kept government running. President Obama and Democrats have rejected any attempt to link the health care overhaul to the budget.

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