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Federal Shutdown: What it Means for Hikers, Campers, Volunteers

Posted by Susan Elderkin at Oct 01, 2013 12:10 PM |
Due to an impasse in Congress, the federal government shut down at midnight last night. Aside from the many impacts to federal employees and programs, the shutdown also impacts hikers, campers and trail volunteers.
Federal Shutdown: What it Means for Hikers, Campers, Volunteers

Road closed signs will be a familiar sight to hikers wanting to access national parks during the government shutdown.

Updated: Oct. 3, 2013.

Due to the impasse in Congress, the federal government shut down at midnight last night. Aside from the many impacts to federal employees and programs, the shutdown also impacts hikers, campers and potentially trail volunteers.

What effects the shutdown will have are still being determined, and we'll continue to update this blog as we learn more. (Agencies' “close down procedure” asks that managers and supervisors arrange for securing their offices, canceling meetings and events and communicating with their partners, the public and their employees about what it means.)

Here's what we know now:

National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges are closed and gated

The National Park Service has been very clear about the impacts to its 401 sites around the country. They are closed. You can read its contingency plan here.

  • All 401 National Park Service sites are closed across the country. This includes Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park, as well as smaller units in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. National Wildlife Refuges will also be closed.
  • Roads that go through or around National Parks will remain open—SR 20 across North Cascades National Park and SR 410 around Mount Rainier—but roads that provide access into the park will be marked as closed or gated. For instance, there is no access to Mount Rainier's Paradise, Olympic's Hurricane Ridge or Hoh Rainforest or Cascade Pass in North Cascade National Park. For mountain pass conditions, check with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). All trails and activities along these roads through the National Parks are curtailed.
  • All visitor centers and facilities are closed. People already in campgrounds or overnight facilities were given 48 hours to leave.
  • All permits for backcountry camping and climbing are rescinded. No new permits are being issued. Update 10/2: The contingency plan also states that day use visitors—and that would include hikers—would be asked to leave the park. As such, WTA does not recommend hiking in National Parks during the shutdown. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is also advising the same for PCT thru-hikers.
  • All National Park Service websites have been taken offline, and staff has stopped posting to their social media streams.
  • The majority of National Parks employees have been furloughed. In the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 118 employees are on furlough because of the shutdown and approximately 40 concessions employees are similarly affected. (Nationwide the shutdown has furloughed more than 20,000 National Park Service employees.)

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

  • Update 10/1: At the Mount St. Helen's Monument, the Johnston Ridge Observatory and Science and Learning Center at Coldwater are closed during the lapse in federal government funding. According to Mount St. Helens Institute (a private, non-profit organization), Climber’s Bivouac, the climbing route and all hiking trails will remain open, though bathroom facilities at all parking lots and trailheads will be locked.

    National Forest trails not closed to hikers, but camping, facilities are closed

    The effects to hikers in Washington's National Forests are less clear than in the parks. Here's what we do know, though these are subject to change and will be updated on this blog as we learn more. You can access the U.S. Forest Service Contingency Plan here.

    • Forest Service visitor centers and offices are closed.
    • Trailheads and trails in National Forests are not closed, but hikers could encounter gates. Trailhead facilities like toilets and garbage will not be serviced.
    • Update 10/3: The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has asked WTA not to sell Northwest Forest Passes. But as a precaution, continue to hang your Northwest Forest Pass at trailheads. You probably don't need it, but Law Enforcement Officers will still be working, and many of the trailheads are patrolled by county sheriffs.
    • Campgrounds operated by the US Forest Service will be closed within two days, although some campgrounds operated by concessionaires could remain open.
    • Road projects may be halted, and some are going forward on a case-by-case basis.
    • The U.S. Forest Service and recreation.gov websites have been taken offline and staff are no longer updating or posting to social media channels.
    • Update 10/3: Got an Enchantment permit? Here's what one hiker told us was posted as a note on the door of the Wenatchee Ranger Station: "If you have a printed permit, please enjoy your trip. If you have not printed your permit yet, it is not possible to do so; however, you may print your confirmation letter that was emailed to you when your application for a permit was granted, and take that with you on your hike. If you do not have a NW Forest Pass, leave a copy of your confirmation on the dashboard of your car." Additional Hiker info: See the comments below from schifferj for more info about snow conditions and passes.
    • The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest's Sustainable Roads public engagement meeting in Everett on October 9 has been cancelled.

    WTA trail work parties on federal land cancelled

    Update 10/2: WTA has cancelled work parties on National Forest land for the first weekend in October. We will be able to resume on federal land work parties when government operations resume. Where possible, we will redirect these work parties to state or county properties. And in a fit of optimism, we will keep our October 11-13 work parties for National Forest land on the schedule.

    NOAA shuts down, but you can still get weather updates

    If you rely on on the National Weather Service to assess conditions before you head out hiking, you'll still be able to get that information during the shutdown. NOAA.gov and most associated websites are unavailable, but because the weather.gov site provides information "necessary to protect life and property, it will be updated and maintained during the Federal Government shutdown."

    The silver lining: state and local lands are open

    Hike and camp on state and local lands. Washington State Parks and Fish & Wildlife lands remain open for hikers and recreation users and people should bring their Discover Pass to hang in their windows at these sites. County lands remain open as well, and there are many great places to hike close by urban centers.

    Volunteer on city, county and state trails. WTA's trail work on these lands will also go forward. We have work parties this weekend scheduled for Taylor Mountain in King County, Big Rock in Spokane County and Dosewallips State Park on the Olympic Peninsula. You can still sign up for these work parties and others.

    Share your experience

    Have you already been impacted by the shutdown on national public lands? Been turned away from a National Park or asked to leave a campground? Share your story with us in the comments below?

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    Permits Still Required?

    Posted by Packpup at Oct 01, 2013 05:25 PM
    If they shut down why should we have to use a parking pass? If they don't have to work I shouldn't have to pay. That's garbage.

    Just a suggestion

    Posted by Loren Drummond at Oct 01, 2013 04:55 PM
    Hi Packpup - We don't have 100% confirmation if the law enforcement officials on duty will be ticketing -- but if you have a pass already, we simply suggest displaying it to cover your bases. We'll let you know more as we learn about it.

    Don't you already have one?

    Posted by HikesWithCameras at Oct 01, 2013 05:25 PM
    If you pumped a tank of gas, and when you go to pay you find that the attendant has stepped away for a quick bathroom break, are you relieved of the obligation to pay? No.

    Besides, pass fees in part fund the lands that you would be using, including their roads and trails on which we travel, whether or not there are people manning the visitors' centers or restocking privies' TP.

    Enchantments

    Posted by Wags97 at Oct 02, 2013 12:01 PM
    Is there any confirmation on the Enchantments? We've got a permit for this week, already printed.

    No clarity

    Posted by Susan Elderkin at Oct 03, 2013 08:11 AM
    I wasn't able to determine any official policy about Enchantment permits from the Okanogan-Wenatchee NF. Hiking on national forest land has been left very ambiguous by the agency, and unlike national parks, forests are not "closed." Do note, that there has been quite a bit of snow in the Enchantments this week. I'd expect a foot or more, with a difficult - and potentially icy - approach from both directions to reach the Lower and Upper Enchantment areas.

    No Clarity

    Posted by schifferj at Oct 03, 2013 08:11 AM
    As stated in another post, the Snow Lake trailhead does not indicate a closure and there were three parties up there somewhere. The bathroom is closed/locked with a bit of political commentary on the closure note. As to snow; there is a lot of it up there. Expect to hike into snow at about the 4000 foot level and find 8"-10" at snow lake depending on tree coverage (3-4" at Nada Lake). I hiked up to the bottom of the Snow Creek incline up to Lake Viviane and decided not to proceed further because of snow/ice and I had hiking crampons in hand. To me the juice was not worth the squeeze. Spent one night at Snow Lakes and bailed. When I left Snow Lakes it was snowing heavily. My best guess; the awesome autumn colors of the Enchantments will be enjoyed only by the Mountain Goats this year.

    updates?

    Posted by teamravegreen at Oct 03, 2013 10:07 AM
    I'm kind of new-ish to wta.org, brand-spanking-new to being registered and posting comments... :)

    I have a couple of questions:
    1) Any updates to this closure info, will they be posted in the comments or will the actual post/article be updated?

    2) Pertaining to the Enchantments - We have had a day hike planned since August for this weekend. Does anyone know if there are gates on the FS roads that could be potentially locked on us?

    3) Snow this week... It looks like it should clear up and get a little bit warmer the next couple/few days, do you think snow/ice will still be a problem?

    THANKS!

    updates

    Posted by Susan Elderkin at Oct 03, 2013 10:07 AM
    Hi Teamravegreen - we will be posting updates to the article itself, but as you will see below, hikers have posted useful information about The Enchantments and the weather up there.

    In general, it is unlikely you will encounter an unexpected gate on USFS land, unless it was for planned winter or wildlife closures. But a locked bathroom - yes.

    Enchantments

    Posted by schifferj at Oct 03, 2013 12:06 PM
    I just returned from the Enchantments. The Leavenworth Ranger Station is closed - there were not lottery drawings as per usual and a couple of groups "poached" the Enchantment area without a pass. I had a printed pass in hand and felt no compunction whatsoever as to hiking with pass in hand. There's no one up there to check passes/parking passes and my car was the only one of six in the parking lot with a NW Forest pass displayed.

    Core via SNow lake

    Posted by Miek at Oct 03, 2013 02:00 PM
    We're planning to hike to the core from the Snow Lake TH. No permit, we're gambling on the daily lottery, but with the shutdown we just have to risk not running into a ranger on duty. I was wondering if you thought the route was very sketchy or is it doable with snowshoes/poles? I am especially worried about the rebar steps... any advice?

    Core via Snow Lake

    Posted by schifferj at Oct 03, 2013 04:42 PM
    Are you familiar with the route? The rebar steps you mention are on the short leg from Lake Viviane to Leprechaun Lake and are preceded by rock hopping along the side of a cliff - something I wouldn't be comfortable with on slippery snow covered rocks. The approach to Lake Viviane from Upper Snow Lake however is fairly steep, many portions are on steep granite slabs, and the cairne markings may very well be covered with snow (the ones on the first slab off the "trail" were covered). Many of the slabs between Snow Lake and Viviane are at least as steep as the one with the rebar steps they just don't have the exposure in the event of a fall/slide.

    Personally, I didn't want to posthole my way up and wasn't sure (even though I've been up the trail many times) that I would be able to route find my way with a high degree of confidence given that many of the cairnes will be snow covered. My guess is there will be at least twice as much snow up high as there was at Snow Lake.

    Bottom line, it will be sketchy. If you're planning on through hiking forget it. Be well prepared for winter (with a capital W) conditions.

    Unless things change between now and tomorrow you will NOT run into any rangers - everything is locked up tight! The permit thing would be the least of my worries.
     

    Core via Snow Lake

    Posted by Miek at Oct 03, 2013 04:42 PM
    I've only been up there via Assgard pass and we didn't hike further than Prussik pass, so I have no idea what to expect. We were planning on hiking up to snow lake, pitch up our tent and continue to the core later on Saturday or Sunday morning. Your comments definitely helped with making a decisions: decided to go somewhere else ;-). Thanks again, happy hiking!

    Bummed about my Mt. Rainier permit

    Posted by Sweeper at Oct 03, 2013 08:10 AM
    Selfish I know, but I'm bummed about my Mt Rainier annual permit. It expires at the end of December and I had hoped to get some snowshoeing in. I'm hoping it's all resolved soon. I suppose I could take the Republican party to small claims court for the lost use of the park since I had paid for the permit. :)

    Really Bummed?

    Posted by Brad at Oct 07, 2013 01:42 PM
    You see this as a Republican issue? It's both parties. Washington D.C. is all about protecting and enhancing their POWER and their WEALTH at the expense of the taxpayer. Don't blame the (conservative) republicans, who are only trying to keep some fiscal sanity. The country is BROKE and all they want is more of our taxes. Yes, I'm bummed too but as much as I want to blame dummocrats and the president, it'a ALL of the establishment politicians who are robbing us blind. The republicans in the house have passed a bill that would open the National Parks but Harry Reid won't even negotiate or consider taking up the bill. It would help if everyone would get the facts and not just listen to the spin from the state-run media. This is much larger than R vs. D. Its government elite vs. we the people and we have to stand up and fight both parties to get our country back.

    Well informed

    Posted by ladamsfrog at Oct 05, 2013 09:37 PM
    Well said & well informed! So refreshing to know there's other people out there that actually know why our beautiful national parks are closed! :(

    You are misinformed or disingenuous.

    Posted by the lonely misanthrope at Oct 07, 2013 01:42 PM
    The country is NOT "broke". Both the budget,the deficit, AND THE DEBT are being reduced at precipitous levels in response to GOP intransigence. "It's both parties" is the convenient dodge that conservatives take when they know their representatives are in the wrong.

    Piecemeal funding of the budget (National Parks here, Head Start there) is just further evidence of the simplistic thinking that fuels the Tea Party. You should be embarassed to repeat these talking points on WTA.

    Please, share specifically how you are "fighting BOTH parties to get our country back" (its OK if you just provide examples of how you are fighting the GOP, I trust you on the Dems) and also, where and whom you are hoping to get it back from. I'm sure it will enlighten all of us.

    Republican / fiscal sanity .... really?

    Posted by NUGECREW at Oct 08, 2013 10:11 AM
    Broke on war baby! Corporation backed ads. Corporations are now people. Beware of what you read and hear. Why should Reid negotiate now, republicans weren't willing to negotiate then? The government hasn't been able to get anything done, they are so busy hating the black guy in the white house. Main thing on the agenda is to repeal the ACA. Get the crazies outta there.

    Republican/fiscal sanity...really?

    Posted by Houston at Oct 08, 2013 10:11 AM
    C'mon NUGECREW, you can't possibly believe that it's all about "hating the black guy in the white house," can you? What people hate is that he's an incompetent, uncredentialed, inexperienced, intolerant divider with nothing but hatred for anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him. The color of his skin is immaterial. The vast majority of Americans who don't like him couldn't care less about that (yes, there certainly are some who do). Brad's perspective is about as right as any I've seen - it's really an issue of who has the most power. And we (the people) are supposed to be the ones with the power, not Congress, the President, or the judiciary. Federal land is OUR land, not theirs.

    Mt. Rainier backdoor trails

    Posted by snowhat at Oct 03, 2013 12:13 PM
    Any problem accessing Mt Rainier from any of the trails that originate from outside the park? FS72, Carbon River Road, Mowich Road, etc?

    Roads will be gated

    Posted by Susan Elderkin at Oct 02, 2013 12:08 PM
    I would anticipate that Mount Rainier roads will be gated, though I'm not sure where gates are located on those roads.

    While no communications from the National Park Service said specifically that trails are closed, the parks themselves are officially closed and federal law does state that entering a park during a closure could be considered trespassing. I would play it safe and stick to public lands outside of national parks.

    Rainier closures

    Posted by OldManSounds at Oct 03, 2013 12:13 PM
    Very few trails actually originate outside the park. Carbon, Mowich... those trailheads are within the park boundary. In reading over the Dept of Interior's info, it appears the minute you step on land inside the NPS boundary, you would be trespassing. So even if you walked the road to the trailhead, you'd still be game for being cited.

    I've wondered about Mowich myself as I had plans for this weekend. I'm assuming that the gate at the Paul Peak trailhead - a few thousand feet inside of the NPS boundary - will be locked. The road up to that point though is state highway. Even if the budget issue was resolved today, I can't imagine the NPS opening up the gate for just a few more days before they shut it again for the winter. I'm thinking Mowich is done for the season.

    Annette lake

    Posted by Taylor at Oct 03, 2013 12:58 PM
    Has anyone heard the status on Annette lake? Was planning on doing a day hike there on Saturday and want to make sure I will be able to get in! Thanks!

    Annette Lake

    Posted by Susan Elderkin at Oct 03, 2013 12:58 PM
    I don't think you will have a problem at Annette Lake, except perhaps encountering snow along the trail. Please post a trip report when you return to let hikers know what to expect out there!

    Tipsoo Lake/Naches Peak Loop Trail

    Posted by Fran at Oct 05, 2013 09:42 PM
    Can I hike this trail? It's outside the Park fee gates...

    Too much snow

    Posted by ladamsfrog at Oct 05, 2013 09:42 PM
    My husband and I went to Sourdough Gap this past Thursday & the trail, along with the one you mentioned, are completely covered with a lot of snow. :(

    federal shutdown

    Posted by snow pounders at Oct 08, 2013 10:02 AM
    no shutdown will keep me and my crew out of the parks,we will be hiking mount rainier this weekend and every weekend to protest the shutdown,

    federal shutdown

    Posted by Houston at Oct 09, 2013 06:16 PM
    Snow pounders - protesting by trespassing may seem like a socially acceptable way to do it, but you'll face some serious problems if the Law Enforcement Rangers, who remain on duty, find you. Trespassing on Federal Land can carry some pretty stiff penalties, and since you've announced your intentions publicly, any judge worth his/her salt would take your announcement into consideration while passing sentence! Besides, if someone in your party is injured and requires rescue, who the heck do you think will come to your aid? The LE Rangers depend on the rest of the team for SAR missions, and they're all furloughed! Protest by writing Congress and the president and telling them that they all have to compromise and settle this stupidity. Don't protest by breaking the law, especially since the price could be your life.

    Details, details

    Posted by snert 42 at Oct 08, 2013 11:15 AM
    All true in the Parks only, Houston. Outside the parks on USFS land, including the Mount St.Helens NVM, the "ranger team" (LE+SAR+EMS, etc) that you refer to does not exist (see my earlier comment). There are only a handful of USFS LE officers for the ENTIRE Gifford Pinchot NF; they patrol the monument roads as part of their duties when they can, but that's it. They enforce federal traffic and resource protection laws, but they don't do SAR. SAR is, by law, the responsibility of the County Sheriff on all USFS land, including the Monument. It's the same in every other National Forest in both OR and WA. It works OK in the average spot in the woods, but is far less than your relatives from Iowa expect when they go to a high-use place like Mount St. Helens or Mt Rainier.

    federal shut down

    Posted by snow pounders at Oct 09, 2013 06:16 PM
    writing a letter will do absolutely nothing,everyone in the government is worthless,and for getting hurt in the backcountry thats a chance we take,plus we are not by any means your average flatlander hikers,we have enough gear and safety equipment to deal with anything we encounter,and we will be hiking and climbing in all national parks in Washington during the shutdown

    St. Helens

    Posted by snert 42 at Oct 08, 2013 12:29 PM
    Sad to see WTA falling into the same trap as so much of the public- the Mount St. Helens NVM has no connection to the National Park Service, and should be listed under National Forests in this article. Otherwise, you perpetuate the myth that the monument provides far more than it actually does for the public. I can tell you from first-hand experience that most folks traveling to the monument expect Park Service quality visitor protection, infrastructure and management. Instead they find little more than they would find at any other spot in any National Forest- terribly underfunded/neglected infrastructure, virtually no uniformed presence, dependence on strapped counties for all emergency services, and an unethical level of reliance on overworked volunteers. The monument gets visitors from around the world- they expect better, and they are right.

    Ape Caves?

    Posted by FloridaNative at Oct 05, 2013 07:10 PM
    I know its NF or Monument land but don't want to make the trek all the way out there from I-5 if its been gated ... anyone been out there since 10/1?

    Thanks for your feedback

    Posted by Loren Drummond at Oct 08, 2013 12:29 PM
    Hi snert - Thanks so much for your feedback. We work hard to educate hikers about the different public lands in our state, and you're right that Mount St. Helens occupies a unique space in that regard. We've taken the update about the monument and placed it in it's own section, which should address your concern. Thanks for your feedback and for being an active part of the WTA community.

    Pilchuck gates and toilet open

    Posted by wendyw at Oct 08, 2013 02:37 PM
    As of 10/4 the road to Pilchuck was open -- both gates were open -- as was toilet.

    Access to Heliotrope Ridge and Climber's Bivy?

    Posted by jesso435 at Oct 09, 2013 02:42 PM
    Hi - we're planning on taking our mountain bikes up the 7 miles of closed road on Glacier Creek Rd to access Heliotrope Ridge, and then heading down into the Coleman seracs for some alpine ice climbing instruction for a group of 9. First, are we allowed to be up there? There is no official campground, just an unserviced bivy area. Second, I read that the forest service was planning on shutting down access to the road to the entire public (including hikers and bikers) because they were to start on road repairs from the washout (starting around 9/30). Does anyone know if this road is indeed shut to the public now? I can't find any information.

    Which roads are closed?

    Posted by ethanpw at Oct 11, 2013 07:45 PM
    Is 12, NF-25, and 503 open? I've been planning a trip to Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens for months from Atlanta. I'm staying in Portland and hoping to at least do a scenic drive around the mountains. Any ideas? Thanks!

    All open

    Posted by snert 42 at Oct 11, 2013 08:06 PM
    US12 and SR503 (as well as SR504, the main west-side access)are state-maintained highways and are open.
    Forest roads 25 and 99 should be open, according to the last Forest Service update, but all USFS facilities (restrooms,interpretive centers, etc)along them are closed. Wait until Sunday to take your drive, as the low cloud ceiling will preclude any mountain views before then. All of next week looks very good!

    Mt Rainier

    Posted by snert 42 at Oct 11, 2013 08:06 PM
    As for Mt Rainier, although the park is closed, there are phenomenal views available from SR123/SR410. SR123 runs north from US12, connecting just east of Packwood. These two state roads are open, but any federal facility they pass is not (restrooms, trailheads, etc).

    Lastly, a trip south on FR25 (connecting Rainier NP to the east side of Mt. St. Helens) is great but "rustic." There is NO fuel available between Randle (US12) and Cougar (FR90). That's a distance of 63 miles, not counting your side trip out to the end of FR99 to see the crater and Spirit Lake..

    Recreation.gov

    Posted by schifferj at Oct 13, 2013 03:22 PM
    I attempted a login to the Recreation.gov website today and, as expected, found it closed. I did make note of the following statement in the closure notification:
    "If you already have a reservation which is either partially or fully impacted by facility closures, we will automatically cancel that reservation and issue a full refund to the credit card used for the initial purchase transaction. No additional cancellation fees will be charged to the customer for reservation cancellations as a result of facility closures."

    As I see it, my Enchantments reservation was at least partially impacted by facility closures in that 1) Pit toilets were closed at all trailheads (Stewart Lake/Colchuk Lake, Eightmile Lake, and Snow Lakes) 2) There was no one in place to even ATTEMPT rescue services should I have encountered a problem and 3) there was no information available from rangers as to weather conditions/snow conditions in the area, and 4) There was no ranger presence to discourage fires above 5000' and possible other infractions.

    Given those facts, I fully intend to pressure recreation.gov for a full refund of the $41 I spent for my Enchantment reservation. It remains to be seen if they will honor their statement.

    Know your land-management agency!

    Posted by snert 42 at Oct 08, 2013 08:05 PM
    Schiferj- you have been misled if you think that the reservation you purchased gets you rescue services and related "ranger stuff."
     See the above comments related to Mount St. Helens- the Enchantments are Forest Service managed wilderness, and the same rules apply. That is, the County Sheriff is wholly responsible for SAR, EMS and other non-wildfire emergency functions on USFS land within his/her county. As in any designated wilderness managed by the USFS, the typical FS employee role is to notice that someone is overdue (based on permit data, at some point) and to then call 911, activating whatever county assets exist for that location (through the sheriff's office). That normally means that a volunteer SAR group will be your eventual salvation, but such a response may take far longer than you are expecting under the "ranger" model. Only NPS rangers operate under the multiple-hat model, meaning the same folks do SAR, law enforcement, EMS, firefighting, etc as the situation warrants. Nothing even remotely similar exists within the Forest Service. Sorry.

    Recreation.gov

    Posted by schifferj at Oct 13, 2013 03:22 PM
    As a former member of what was known as the Rocky Mountain Rescue group and currently a paid professional paramedic/Technical rescue/swift water rescue technician I am fully cognizant of that fact. That said I've been present in the enchantments when the rangers ran "point" during rescue situations. I retread the blurb above re Mt St. Helens and I have to say one gets a lot more bang for their permit buck in the enchantments than just about any other place I know of. That bang was missing on my last trip!

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