National parks remain open during the government shutdown, but activities such as waste cleanup and regulatory inspections are at a standstill.
Since the government shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018, national parks have remained open. During this time most National Park Service (NPS) employees have been furloughed.
An NPS spokesperson told The Hill: “In the event of a government shutdown national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. For example, this means that roads that have already been open will remain open (think snow removal) and vault toilets (wilderness-type restrooms) will remain open. However, services that require staffing and maintenance such as campgrounds and full service restrooms, will not be operating.”
As predicted by the NPS spokesperson, anything that does not require support of federal employees has remained open. This includes certain lodging, gas stations and even some free-standing gift shops.
According to the NPS plan, “Effective immediately upon a lapse in appropriations, the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to suspend all activities and secure national park facilities that operate using appropriations that are now lapsed, except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
Park Visitors Face Disappointment Due to Unkept Roads and Closed Facilities
Although the parks remain open, facilities such as restrooms and visitor centers are locked.
The National Parks Conservation Association’s president Theresa Pierno said, “Visitors from around the world who have planned their trips to our national parks months in advance now face the possibility of disruption and disappointment when they arrive at parks only to find closed visitor centers, locked restrooms and unplowed roads.”
The closed facilities and unplowed roads are affecting local businesses.
“Local businesses and park concessioners also face the possibility of having to re-route passengers to other tours or cancel excursions altogether, threatening $18 million in economic activity that our national parks support on average each day during the month of December,” Pierno continued.
EPA Activities Come to a Halt Due to Government Shutdown
As many people feared, the shutdown has even affected the EPA. It has been forced to pause many routine activities that directly impact parks.
“Even a shutdown for a small amount of time can set administrative and organizational productivity back for weeks, preventing the public from accessing important information and delaying lifesaving activities at the EPA,” affirmed Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president of political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund. “For example, the EPA would be forced to pause hazardous waste cleanups, regulatory inspections and approvals. Without these critical services, the true victim of a government shutdown is the American public. Moving the funding bill forward is necessary to our nationwide fight against threats to our health and environment.”
Could Keeping U.S. National Parks Open During the Government Shutdown Be a Mistake?
Many people feel that keeping national parks open with limited or no staff is a big mistake. The Guardian formulated a list of reasons why this may be true. Here is the list:
- Trash is already accumulating in parks such as Yosemite and will attract wildlife. This could result in tragic human/bear encounters, or habituate bears to human food, meaning the animals will have to be relocated or euthanized in the future.
- Civil War battlefield parks are seeing increases in artefact [sic] theft by people with metal detectors.
- Human waste has overwhelmed toilets in Joshua Tree and Point Reyes and has proliferated along trails, rivers and streams, potentially impacting water quality and certainly the visitor experience.
- Roads normally open in Mt. Rainier and Crater Lake national parks are accumulating so much snow that they will have to be bulldozed to reopen, at a much higher expense and with prolonged delays.
- Visitor centers are closed across the parks, depriving visitors of information on hazardous conditions, trail closures and wildlife activity.
- Wildlife, normally fully protected, will be subject to poaching or threats, such as the recent break-in at the endangered Devil’s Hole pupfish enclosure in Nevada.
- Visitors to parks are reporting dogs off leash, drone activity, off-highway vehicles and the public walking on or near fragile resources, such as the hot pools and thermal features of Yellowstone.
American novelist Wallace Stegner once said, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”