Planning a trip to a national park? The government shutdown might throw a wrench in your plans: As the shutdown enters its third week, national parks across the country are feeling the pinch. Services have been curtailed, park rangers have been put on furlough, and some park areas have even closed to visitors.
Although the National Park Service website is no longer being updated, the agency did announce that “national parks are working to remain as open and accessible to the American people as possible,” according to a press release. In addition, the Department of the Interior has released a contingency plan that outlines how the NPS will operate during the shutdown. Bottom line: With over 21,000 employees on furlough, expect curtailed services and limited staff at parks across the country.
Leaving the parks open with minimal staff has created a whole range of problems, from overflowing trash cans and dirty restrooms to damaged natural landmarks. To address these widespread issues, the NPS and the Department of the Interior have decided to tap into funds derived from entrance, camping, and other fees charged at the parks to help run day-to-day operations while the shutdown continues. The funds were originally supposed to be used for long-term maintenance and enhancements, according to the National Parks Traveler.
Before you venture out to a park, here’s what you need to know.
Park Areas That Are Shut Down
- The road to Crater Lake is closed at Crater Lake National Park “to protect public health and park resources.”
- The west entrance to Pinnacles National Park is closed; the east entrance is open to campers only.
- All campgrounds except Stovepipe Wells are closed at Death Valley National Park.
- At Yosemite National Park, the Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced Groves of Giant Sequoias are closed. Hetch Hetchy, the John Muir and Mist Trails, and Wawona and Hodgdon Meadow Campgrounds are closed to the public.
- In Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves and Strawberry Creek Road are closed.
- The scenic drive through Capitol Reef National Park is closed.
- At Rocky Mountain National Park, sections of highways are closed and gates are closed near the Wild Basin and Grand Lake entrances.
- Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is closed, although the campground is open.
The Parks Are Open—Sort Of
- Originally scheduled to close on January 10, Joshua Tree National Park will remain open thanks to an influx of funds, including Federal Land Recreation Enhancement funding.
- The Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park has been reopened, weather permitting.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have reopened.
Most parks are open and their roads and trails are accessible to the public, but they won’t have basic services like restroom cleaning, entrance fee collection, and trash removal. The DOI contingency plan states that “staffing levels will be based on the assumption that the NPS is conducting no park operations and providing no visitor services.”
If areas of the park become dangerous or pose a hazard to wildlife because of the lack of maintenance, parks staff can shut them down, so there’s no guarantee that roads and trails will remain open. Even so, some parks are running thanks to donations from local organizations or state governments. Donations have helped keep a visitor center and other facilities going at Death Valley National Park, for example:
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Thanks to contributions by partners, several facilities within the park are open and operational in addition to the ongoing law enforcement patrols. The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is open daily 8am-5pm, thanks to a donation from the Death Valley Natural History Association. Death Valley Lodging at Stovepipe Wells is maintaining the campground at Stovepipe Wells. Public restrooms at the Ryan Entrance Station, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Badwater are being maintained by The Oasis at Furnace Creek. Further information can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/shutdown.htm Additionally, The Oasis at Furnace Creek, Panamint Springs Village, & Panamint Springs Resort are open. Visitors are reminded that all laws and policies are still applicable, visitor services are generally reduced, and closures may change without notification. Visitors should come to Death Valley prepared accordingly. Comments on this post will not be responded to for the duration of the government shutdown.
Camping in national parks during the shutdown will be dicey. According to the DOI contingency plan, campsites won’t be maintained and no staff will be available to check visitors in or out. In addition, parks staff can shut down campsites if they become degraded due to garbage buildup or other issues. If you have a reservation for a campsite coming up, you might be out of luck: The contingency plan states that there is “no guarantee” that your site will be ready and available for your time slot.
Non-government Services May Still Be Operating
Tour guide companies, restaurants, concession stands, and other privately run services may still be open in and around the national parks. Check their websites or social media pages for the latest updates.
Volunteers Are Helping With Park Maintenance
In many parks, local residents and businesses have been stepping up to maintain the parks during the shutdown. At Joshua Tree, where some visitors have been leaving behind trash and breaking park rules, local business Cliffhanger Guides has been keeping the park’s bathrooms clean and stocked with toilet paper:
Our visit to #joshuatree National Park was spectacular. Amazing efforts of volunteers during the #TrumpShutdown , however sad to see many people are taking advantage of the lack of staff monitoring and disrespecting the park. pic.twitter.com/wOaORgaDML
— Tamblyn Thomason (@ThomasonTamblyn) December 30, 2018
If You Go, Prepare to Be Self-Sufficient (and Keep the Parks Clean)
It’s always essential to be prepared when venturing into the wilderness, but even moreso when park rangers are scarce and park facilities are limited or completely unavailable. Be ready to pack out waste and trash, and make sure you can deal with any emergencies that may arise—the parks are running with skeleton crews, and rescue may be a long way away. One hiker discovered that the hard way on Christmas Eve in Big Bend National Park in Texas. While out hiking, Josh Snider fell, broke his leg, and had to rely on another passing group of hikers to carry him out since there were no rangers nearby, CNN reports. Fortunately, a ranger eventually arrived and Snider made it out safely.
How You Can Help
The National Park Foundation, the official charitable arm of the NPS, is looking for donations for its Park Restoration Fund, which will go toward cleaning up the parks once the shutdown ends. You can also sign up for information on volunteer groups that will go into parks after the shutdown and assist with recovery efforts.
We’ll continue to update this post with any new information as the shutdown continues, so check back here for the latest news.