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America's Best Idea Held Hostage

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- In Central Oregon just south of Bend, there is a state park built around a mangled pine that, at one time, was the tallest Ponderosa in the state. Though a storm took out half of the crown on "Big Red," the 162-foot tree that gave LaPine State Park its name, it is still surrounded by sweeping views of bends in the Deschutes River, rushing falls filled with rainbow trout and miles of trails populated largely by chipmunks, squirrels and the occasional elk.

It's been operating at about one-third capacity since the beginning of October, but the couples serving as park hosts still dole out firewood, maps and directions for those hardy enough to make the trip when evening temperatures dip below freezing. With views of Mount Bachelor and the Sisters peaks and foliage and underbrush just changing into vibrant colors, there's still a lot to see and explore in LaPine.

The same can't be said for the surrounding National Parks, though.

Like many U.S. travelers on the first weekend in October, my wife and I experienced the National Park system and National Forests mostly through the closed, brown iron gates and reflective markers that greeted us at each entry. The Lava Lands Visitor Center and the lava river caves and butte just north of LaPine in Sunriver? Closed. The Newberry National Volcanic Monument and its Newberry crater and lava cast forest? Open, but its signage was covered, interpretive centers closed and staff gone.

In an area like Central Oregon, where national forests make up large swaths of the surrounding scenery, the lingering effects of the government shutdown gave the area an air of desertion. Aside from the occasional truck pulled off Route 20 on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest, where hunting was still permitted, the roads were especially vacant for a rare autumn weekend of sun and temperatures topping 70 degrees. An already low period between the end of summer and the beginning of ski season in the nearby mountains felt especially, unnecessarily bleak.

While uncomfortable for us, we're sure the 59% of the National Forest Service employees who've been furloughed during the government shutdown and the more than 21,000 National Park Rangers sent home by Congressional inaction have an even less charitable view.