A government shutdown and the National Parks

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

With a government shutdown looking more likely as the House and Senate continue a budget battle ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline, the effects on the National Parks system will be immediate. All 401 parks, monuments, historic houses and battlefields will close and parks users will be told to leave in a two-step process.

Day users

Day visits will end on Tuesday. The park entrances will be closed and day visitors will need to leave. Access roads will also be closed. Park offices and visitor centers will also no longer be open.

While park roads will be closed, any road that bisects a park and is used as a thruway for the surrounding communities will remain open.

Overnight users

Those using overnight facilities – park campgrounds, cabins and other accommodations ­– will be asked to leave within two days and will need to make other arrangements. Refunds will be up to the concessionaires that run the facilities, according to the NPS.

Backcountry visitors

Okay, here things seem nebulous. I haven’t found anything on the Web about those already in the backcountry.

I called the backcountry office at Rocky Mountain National Park to see if it had any information. The individuals I spoke to said that during a shutdown no new permits will be issued and access to the park will be closed. If you have a backcountry permit and are already on the trip, you will be able to continue.

One answer I could not find was if your course traversed from one park into another. If the junction were in the backcountry, I would guess you would be okay; if the trail went through a main part of a park facility or required a check-in? Then you might be in trouble…

What about in the case of an emergency in the backcountry during the shutdown? The parks will keep skeletal staffs for emergencies, but any support would likely be more scattershot.

If anyone has any more details about backcountry use during a shutdown, please let me know.

Park employees

Park employees deemed essential will remain on the job. According to the NPS’s contingency plans,  “Staffing will be held to the very minimum to perform essential functions. This will ordinarily be only law enforcement personnel, at a staffing level that allows for reactive emergency response commensurate with levels of park operations under the shutdown. However, in certain instances maintenance and IT personnel may be required for systems that normally require 24 hour monitoring or periodic maintenance, without which the system would shut down. Emergency responders, including Fire Management, EMS, and Law Enforcement personnel, not required for essential activities will be placed on furlough but may be called back to duty if an emergency situation arises.”

According to the contingency plans, a shutdown would put 87 percent of Park Service employees – more that 21,000 people – will be furloughed.

Economic effects

So how much is this going to cost the parks, the employees and the surrounding communities? According to the National Parks Conservation Association, “The last government shutdown in 1995-1996 cost local businesses $14 million per day. Our analysis indicates the actual impact on businesses now could be closer to $30 million per day.”


2 thoughts on “A government shutdown and the National Parks

  1. If the weather hadn’t turned (already!) I’d be tempted to head up to Sahale Glacier Camp. It can be pretty tough to land a backcountry permit to camp there; this sounds like there would be no competition. Alas, it would be cold, wet, miserable, and without the stunning view.

  2. Pingback: Google celebrates Yosemite’s birthday | The Mountains Are Calling

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