As the battle over the U.S. budget continues to grind on, the country is starting to face the very real possibility of a government shutdown starting as early as next Friday, March 4th. What would that shutdown mean to America’s national parks and the communities that depend on them? If past history is any indication, it wouldn’t be good.
National parks continue to be very popular vacation destinations, hosting more than 300 million visitors system wide each year. There are national parks or monuments in 49 of the 50 U.S. states, many of which have a direct impact on local economies, generating as much as $13.3 billion in private-sector revenue each year. If a shutdown does occur, the government would shutter all but the most essential of operations, meaning that all the national parks, recreation areas, monuments, and so on would close as well.
That is exactly what happened back in 1995 and 1996 when the U.S. government closed for business for a total of 27 days. During those two closures, the National Park Service was reduced to just 1% of its usual staff and employed only four people in Washington D.C. The gates to major parks were closed and locked tight, and wire fences were strung up around national monuments. Many travelers canceled their trips, which left hotels and campground empty, costing park dependent communities an average of $14 million per day.
This doom and gloom scenario could play out again if Republicans and Democrats can’t find a way to compromise on the budget. They have until next Friday to pass a funding extension that would keep the government fully operational. If that doesn’t happen, be prepared to cancel any planned trips to the national parks in the near future.