National Parks to Tap Into Entrance-Fee Funds For Maintenance During the Government Shutdown

Following the unfortunate state that many national parks are in right now (due to the Federal Government partial shutdown), the National Park Service (NPS) is looking to tap into entrance-fee funds in order to get staff at national parks to assist with operations and maintenance.

national park trash
ASN’s Katie Rodriguez was on-site at Joshua Tree this weekend where she saw this. Photo: Courtesy of Katie Rodriguez

As reported by the Washington Post, on Saturday, U.S. Department of the Interior Acting Secretary David Bernhardt signed a memorandum that permits park managers to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol parks and open areas that have been closed for the past 17 days.

National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a press release issued by the NPS, “As the lapse in appropriations continues, it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners. We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services.”

zion national park
Protecting areas like the Zion National Park is what’s at stake here. Photo: Courtesy of Sebastien Gabriel/Unsplash

This extraordinary step is currently up for legal interpretation as many question the authority to allocate entrance-fee funds to operations because according to the Washington Post, fees that parks collect under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act “are expressly designated to support visitor services instead of operations and basic maintenance.”

The revised contingency authorizes parks to use these funds for operations and basic maintenance. As Smith explained: “In the coming days the NPS will begin to use these funds to clean up trash that has built up at numerous parks, clean and maintain restrooms, bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas, and to restore accessibility to areas that would typically be accessible this time of year.

“While the NPS will not be able to fully open parks, and many of the smaller sites around the country will remain closed, utilizing these funds now will allow the American public to safely visit many of our nation’s national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve,” Smith continues.

The revised contingency plan obtained and reported by The Washington Post, did not specify any details regarding the number of agency employees that would return to work, nor which parks would receive additional staffing and funds.

The revised contingency plan has created controversy as this is the first time in recent history that a government shutdown has affected national parks so severely.

During the shutdowns under the Clinton and Obama administrations, the NPS chose to block access to its sites – rather than leave them open despite being unstaffed, as they are now.

Incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Betty McCollum told the Post, “The Department of Interior is very likely violating appropriations law. I want to see our parks open, but I want to see our entire government open the right way, following the law.”

Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, told the Washington Post that the move would drain money that was supposed to be spent on addressing the parks’ massive maintenance backlog.

“It’s incredibly concerning that the Acting Interior Secretary is putting political pressure on superintendents to keep parks open at the expense of parks’ long-term needs and protection,” Pierno said. “For those national parks that don’t collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors. Draining accounts dry is not the answer.”

It also appears that the government shutdown will last until at least Tuesday night as President Trump tweeted earlier Monday:

Four days ago, CNN reported President Trump saying he “would look foolish” for accepting an offer to re-open the government.

CNN also reported President Trump saying, that he’d keep the government closed for a “very long period of time – months or even years.”

At the time of reporting, this is the third longest government shutdown in U.S. history at 17 days. If it continues until Tuesday, it will be tied for second longest at 18 days. (The longest in history being 21 days.)

If you plan on visiting any of the national parks, please be sure to follow the ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.

h/t Washington Post

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