Shutdown scales back search for missing woman at Craters of the Moon

kterhune@idahostatesman.comOctober 1, 2013 

A section of lava field west of the Tree Molds Trail in the Craters of the Moon National Monument.

CRATERS OF THE MOON NATIONAL MONUMENT

The government shutdown threw a search for a missing Boise hiker into limbo Tuesday as Craters of the Moon National Monument staff were forced into furloughs and Jo Elliott-Blakeslee’s family issued a plea for more volunteers.

Ted Stout, chief of interpretation and education for the monument, said four searchers scoured the monument Monday. Tuesday morning, after the shutdown went into effect, there were none.

Most of the volunteers and staff from other parks who mobilized during the first days of the search have gone home, Stout said.

“We’re basically left with park staff at this point, with some help with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office,” he said.

That’s about to change, too. All 16 of the Craters of the Moon staff were ordered to go on furlough when Congress was unable to reach an agreement to stave off the shutdown. Three employees will remain to keep essential functions like utilities running, although it is unclear if they’ll be paid for their work, Stout said.

The family of 63-year-old Elliott-Blakeslee put out a call for experienced hikers to volunteer for the search late Monday night.

Craters of the Moon is asking staff if anyone is able to stay and volunteer for the search as well, Stout said.

In a statement, the missing woman’s family thanked volunteers, park staff and the sheriff’s office for their help, and put out a call for experienced hikers to continue the search even as park operations shut down.

“We realize the chance of Dr. Jo surviving in temperatures that have dipped below freezing are slim,” the statement read. “However, we are not ruling out the outside chance that she has found shelter in a cave or under vegetation. Either way, we are committed to bringing her home and are actively recruiting volunteers with backcountry experience to keep the search going.”

Because of bad weather conditions and treacherous terrain, the family asked that volunteers be able to hike 10-12 miles and climb 1,000 feet on the rough, rocky slopes.

Teresa Hampton, a close friend of Elliott-Blakeslee, said she had already received a few calls Tuesday morning from people who wanted to join the search.

“The government shutdown does put another wrinkle into this situation,” she said. “It’s another challenge, but its not one that can’t be overcome.”

With federal agencies quiet, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office has become the family’s main conduit of information, she said. Hampton praised the sheriff’s office and Craters officials for working to keep them informed, even as lines of communication were snipped.

She remained hopeful that the search could continue even as poor weather continued to threaten the region. Thunder, lightning, rain and near-freezing temperatures were limiting the search and could pose a risk to any volunteers who are left.

But the weather is slated to clear up by the end of the week, she said.

“If we get good weather, I think Superintendent (Dan) Buckley is going to be able to do some searches,” she said.

Hampton said she was committed to keeping the search going until her friend is found.

“We want to do all we can to support the monument and provide whatever we can in that regards, whether it’s driving people over or bringing them food, whatever we can do to help,” she said.

Stout said the shutdown does not mean that the monument staff is giving up hope.

"We made a huge effort, and we're scaling back that effort, but we will continue to search with whatever staff resources we have available," he said.

Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact Teresa Hampton at tah@hampton-elliott.com or 208-859-5816.

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