National Parks Could Stay Open Through Shutdown

Sensitive and hazardous areas would likely close.
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Yosemite shutdown

A sign informs visitors of a closure at Yosemite during the government shutdown in October 2013.

When the federal government shut down in October 2013, the National Park Service was hit hard. With no funding, the agency temporarily shuttered more than 400 parks, from popular outdoors destinations like Yellowstone to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., and lost an estimated $450,000 per day in revenue. 

Now, with another potential shutdown looming on Friday night, the Department of the Interior says that it plans to keep some national parks open whether a funding bill passes or not.

In an email, DOI spokesperson Heather Swift said 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."

Park-run facilities like visitor centers would close. With no plowing, gas stations and other remove outposts accessible only by snow-covered roads would also remain shuttered.

With few rangers available to conduct a rescue, Swift said that parks could decide to restrict access to zones deemed too high-risk. "Sensitive cultural areas" also face likely closures.

In an email, John Garder, Director of Budget and Appropriations for the National Parks Conservation Association, said his organization was "astonished and alarmed" by the plan to keep parks open without adequate staff.

"There is no substitute for National Park Service staff and their expertise, and this administration is pursuing an unacceptable and dangerous course by using half-measures to keep parks partially open, putting the public and park resources at risk," he said. 

Rather than keeping parks open with no staff, Garder argues that the only good course of action would be to focus on reopening the government and funding NPS better.

"Park managers have already been trying to run our parks with too few rangers, and this administration appears to be of the viewpoint that parks can be run without rangers," he said.

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