What Happens to OUR National Parks During a Government Shutdown?

Many of us remember the Government Shutdown of 2013. For me, I recall the National Parks closing their gates to millions of visitors over 16 days, and restricting visitor access in nearly every way. I recall stories of armed guards entering busses in Yellowstone, foreign exchange students being ticketed in Olympic National Park, people losing out on their once-in-a-lifetime rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, and a whole list of problems across the country at our Public Lands. The entire thing was a debacle, and luckily, it looks like D.C. may have learned from their previous mistakes. 

As if embarrassed by their actions of 2013, the Department of Interior has decided that National Parks will remain open during the Government Shutdown, somewhat. In a press release we received on Friday, January 19th, 2018, the Department of Interior laid out their plans. Here are a few of the answers to questions you might have:

  • Roughly 21,000 employees would be furloughed. A little more than 3,000 would stay working.
  • National parks, roads, trails and lookouts will remain accessible to visitors but there will be no NPS-provided services.
  • Park rangers and law enforcement will take a “reactive” posture as opposed to a “proactive” one.

The full text can be read here, but here are a few more highlights for Visitors to the National Parks, copied and pasted directly from the link.

Visitor Services During the 2018 Government Shutdown

Park roads, lookouts, trails, and open-air memorials will generally remain accessible to visitors, but there will be no NPS-provided visitor services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance (including plowing), and public information.

As a general rule, if a facility or area is locked or secured during non-business hours (buildings, gated parking lots, etc.) it should be locked or secured for the duration of the shutdown.

The NPS will not operate parks during the shutdown – no visitor services will be provided. The NPS will not issue permits, conduct interpretive or educational programs, collect trash, operate or provide restrooms, maintain roads or walkways (including plowing and ice melting), or provide visitor information.

If visitor access becomes a safety, health or resource protection issue (weather, road conditions, resource damage, garbage build-up to the extent that it endangers human health or wildlife, etc.), the area must be closed. Parks may not bring on additional staff to accommodate visitor access.

The NPS will cease providing services for NPS-operated campgrounds, including maintenance, janitorial, bathrooms, showers, check-in/check-out and reservations. Visitors in campgrounds will not be asked to leave but should be advised that no services will be available. In addition, visitors holding campground reservations for a later date will be advised that the NPS is not operating campgrounds, including providing check- in/check-out services during a shutdown. There is no guarantee their reserved campsite will be ready and available should they arrive during a government shutdown.

Park websites and social media will not be maintained. Parks will not provide regular road or trail condition updates. As a part of their shutdown activities, park staff will post signs notifying visitors that no visitor services, maintenance or other management activities will be conducted, and emergency and rescue services will be limited.

At the superintendent’s discretion, parks may close grounds/areas with sensitive natural, cultural, historic, or archaeological resources vulnerable to destruction, looting, or other damage that cannot be adequately protected by the excepted law enforcement staff that remain on duty to conduct essential activities.

What Does This Mean?

Well, not a ton. This is hardly ideal. Parks may still close if there is a risk to the public or to the park from individuals. There will also be no services available. The roads in the park also won’t be plowed, which is not ideal for winter time visits. On top of that, garbage won’t be collected and pit toilets won’t be emptied or restocked, if they are even open. Law Enforcement Officers will still be roaming the park, but there will be absolutely no staff to answer your questions or help you out. You are on your own.

A closed restroom during the 2013 Government Shutdown
Olympic National Park closed their gates to visitors during the 2013 Government Shutdown.

How damaging was the 2013 Government Shutdown?

The closure of Olympic National Park cost the Olympic Peninsula nearly 3.5 million dollars. With 42,000 less visitors in the 16 days of the closure of the National parks, the already struggling economy of the Olympic Peninsula took the brunt of petty fighting between elected officials in Washington, DC.  While other areas of the country may be able to handle losing 3.5 million dollars of revenue in 16 days, the Olympic Peninsula is not one of those places.

Just released

Published with love by THE OUTDOOR SOCIETY.

Made in the great Pacific Northwest

Join the expedition

By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

Got a tip? Share it with us on Signal.