The government shutdown may leave many federal services halted, including operations at national parks. However, most parks remain accessible, though they operate under limited capacity. This presents both opportunities and challenges for visitors. The allure of fewer crowds can be tempting, but the reduced services can compromise the experience and even safety. This guide aims to help potential visitors navigate and respect national parks during these challenging times.
First and foremost, we believe that during a shutdown that has closed down the area, you shouldn’t visit a national park. Our parks have seen devastating damage during past shutdowns and we are firm believers in protecting the land. Sometimes that means picking up trash on your way out. And sometimes, like during a shutdown, that means not visiting or entering the national parks.
Keep in mind that some parks will still operate with limited staff so they might still be open. If that is the case, here are some helpful tips to ensure your visit doesn’t damage the delicate ecosystems found in our public lands.
Understanding the Impacts of a Shutdown
A government shutdown means no federal funding for the parks. As a result:
- Limited Staff: There will be reduced personnel, impacting everything from permit processing to emergency response.
- Closed Facilities: Visitor centers, restrooms, and some campgrounds may be closed.
- No Maintenance: Routine maintenance ceases, which can lead to unsanitary conditions or even safety hazards.
Why Respect is Paramount During a Shutdown
Without active management and with reduced staff, national parks are vulnerable. Wildlife may be at increased risk from human interference, and landmarks can be damaged. The principles of ‘Leave No Trace’ become even more crucial during this time.
- Stay Informed: Check the park’s official website or local news sources for current conditions and any advisories.
- Self-Sufficiency is Key: Prepare to be entirely self-reliant. This includes bringing all necessary supplies, from food and water to toilet paper and first-aid kits.
- Plan Alternative Activities: Consider local state parks or other attractions if the national park is closed down entirely.
Navigating the Park:
- Drive Cautiously: With fewer rangers patrolling, wildlife might be more present on roadways.
- Pack In, Pack Out: Without regular maintenance, trash bins may overflow. Always take your garbage with you.
- Stay on Designated Trails: Veering off can harm fragile ecosystems, especially when there’s no one to restore or mitigate the damage.
- Camping Considerations: If campgrounds are closed, consider backcountry camping if allowed. Always follow park guidelines.
- Know the Terrain: If venturing into wilderness areas, be aware of the terrain and any potential dangers, from wild animals to sudden weather changes.
- Emergency Protocols: Understand that response times might be delayed. Have a plan in place and ensure someone not in your party knows your itinerary.
- Stay Connected: Cell service can be spotty in many parks. Consider renting or purchasing a satellite phone for longer visits.
Supporting the Parks
- Volunteer: If you’re local and visit frequently, consider volunteering during and after the shutdown to help with cleanup and maintenance.
- Donate: National parks often have associated foundations or friend groups. Consider making a donation to support them, especially during or after a shutdown. These are the funds that often step in during a shut down to keep the parks operating.
- Spread the Word: Encourage friends and family to respect park regulations and the principle of ‘Leave No Trace’.
During a government shutdown, many essential services and operations within national parks come to a halt, leaving these pristine areas vulnerable to both natural and man-made threats. Supporting national parks during these times is crucial to preserve their ecological integrity and historical significance. Without the regular oversight and maintenance provided by park staff, there’s an increased risk of environmental degradation, vandalism, and unchecked human interference. These disruptions not only threaten the immediate health and beauty of the parks but can lead to long-term consequences that may take years to rectify. Thus, supporting national parks during a shutdown, whether through responsible visitation, volunteer efforts, or advocacy, ensures that these national treasures remain protected and intact for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
National parks are treasures for everyone to enjoy. Even during challenging times like a government shutdown, these spaces deserve respect and care. By staying informed, preparing adequately, and treading lightly, visitors can enjoy the beauty of the parks while ensuring they remain pristine for future generations.
- National Park Service’s ‘Leave No Trace’ guidelines
- Updates from the National Parks Conservation Association on the state of parks during a shutdown
- Local volunteer opportunities and park clean-up events