National Parks Meet National Conflict

Across the U.S., a massive portion of profit from tourism comes out of the national parks that are flocked to by visitors — about 282 million per year, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

The recent U.S. government shutdown has affected the state of American parks more than many have predicted. Unlike the 2013 shutdown, during which most national parks were temporarily closed, the parks this year have remained open — unfortunately, there’s a rather costly catch.

Services provided at America’s national parks have been diminished in the wake of the 2018 government shutdown, like amenities that would be expected. In a quote from the National Park Services new contingency plan, “Parks must notify visitors that the NPS will cease providing visitor services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and road maintenance (including plowing), campground reservation and check-in/check-out services, backcountry and other permits, and public information. National and regional offices and support center will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to except supported personnel.”

Though the shutdown has affected each park location differently, there are cumulative impacts that cause change to the industry overall. The effects on the environment are most concerning to conservation groups. The Sierra Club, a public environmental group, says that many humiliating headlines have been covered up with the intention of keeping citizens on the “good side” of the shutdown. Services such as trash-collecting have groups like this concerned with the overall impacts.

Sierra Club’s Associate Director of the Outdoors Campaign Jackie Ostfeld says in a statement, “The reality is that our parks can’t operate without the Park Service. Keeping them open without staff is dangerous to both citizens and the delicate ecosystems of our parks. Risking both visitors and important cultural sites to win political points is the height of irresponsibility.”

One concern is the loss of work that the services could have on national park staff. Most workers at parks have been trained with experience that is only applicable to that job specifically — meaning most of them are out of work during an event like this until the system starts back up again.

A statement regarding the impacts of this was made by the President and CEO of the NPCA Theresa Pierno. “There is no substitute for National Park Service staff and their expertise, and it is not wise to put the public or our park resources at risk by allowing for half-measures to keep them open.”

Even though many adventure-seeking tourists are simply glad that America’s parks are staying open, the risks posed by under-servicing are undeniable by others. In an interview, NPR’s Nathan Rott made a point saying that the new policies are “causing a ton of confusion for them, people who were going up, reading the signs saying, hey, you know, yes, the trails are open, but you have to do so at your own risk. The visitor centers are closed.”

National parks are still a massive destination for travellers, and it’s not predicted that the shutdown should change tourism in the long run. While the staff and the parks themselves recover from the splashback, the efforts will be taken to prepare the industry in case a shutdown like this occurs again.

FullSizeRenderGreat Smoky Mountains National Park, Aug. 2017.  Photo Cred:  A. Weatherwax