Shutdown propels volcano chopper tours

National park closure forces lava viewers into the air

Published  5:26 PM HST Oct 11, 2013

Choppers aren't the only things rising at Big Island's helicopter tour companies. Business is up 15 to 25 percent.

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"We were thinking about taking a flight, but when heard of the shutdown, it became a definite to take the flight cause we don't want to miss our chance to see the volcano," said David Macfarlane, a visitor from Scotland. "So it's the only way we could see it was to do this."

Frances Friedl of Texas said, "The park was less expensive, but we'll take what we can get at this point."

About a dozen of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's 150 or so employees are still working despite the federal government shutdown, mainly to keep visitors out.

Park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane said, "Park rangers have turned away about 200 cars a day, give or take a few. There's been days where it's been a little bit slower than that. But we've seen, I think, an uptick because of the Ironman Triathalon on island."

Ferracane said normally, about 4,500 people visit the park each day and put $265,000 into the local economy.

"Most of the folks are waiting for the national park to reopen. So what we've been getting is people calling same day or walking up to the counter same day because the national park is still not open and they're trying to get on a flight," said Safari Helicopters Hilo Office Manager Stephanie Mitchell.

Businesses within the park are struggling and have told more than 200 of its non-federal workers to stay home.

"You know, while it's giving us a boost in sales, we're actually not really happy about it and we think folks visiting here should be able to go in to see the national park," said Rob Payesko, director of business development for Paradise Helicopters.

Because of the park's closure, visitors at the county-run lava-viewing area in Kalapana have more than doubled. Parks and recreation said it's spending more to keep it open five hours longer each day. Police have stepped up patrols in the area.

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