As the clock struck midnight in Washington, D.C. on Friday, a federal government unable to reach an agreement on a required spending bill began the rare process of closing up shop — freezing all non-essential government jobs and placing roughly 800,000 federal workers on furlough. As budget talks continued across the aisle throughout Friday and late into Friday evening, the reality of a government shutdown — the first since the 2013 shutdown during the Obama administration — became imminent, and the effects of a shuttered federal government began to take place immediately.
As an arm of the Department of the Interior, what does this mean for the National Park Service?
An email from Interior spokeswoman, Heather Swift, confirmed that “In the event of a shutdown, National Parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.”
This means that national parks across the country will remain open during the shut down, but access levels will vary from park to park. Any aspects of a park that require staffing — such as entrance stations, information desks, full-service restrooms, campgrounds and concessions — will be closed.
For Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado’s most-visited national park and one that has seen a dramatic increase in winter weekend visitation in the past few years, the roads that are currently accessible will remain that way, weather and road conditions permitting. “However, visitor services will be limited,” said park spokeswoman, Kyle Patterson. “Services that require staffing and maintenance, such as entrance stations, the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, Moraine Park Campground, and most restroom facilities will not be operating.”
The move to keep public lands open to the public during the shutdown came as a surprise to many members of the outdoor community who have witnessed the Trump administration propose reductions of national monuments, reduced funding for national parks and an increase in park entrance fees over the past year. Citing the backlash from the Obama administration’s decision to shutter and barricade entrances to national parks during the 2013 shutdown, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended keeping the parks open to thwart a move that has already been deemed unpopular by the public.
Although the national parks will remain open during the shutdown, members of the NPS are cautioning visitors to the parks. With bare-bones conditions and a lack of staff, safety and altered visitor experiences are a concern. Outdoor enthusiasts venturing into public lands during the shutdown should be prepared for minimal resources and an absence in emergency response support.