U.S. Government averts shutdown in time to save National Parks Week

As we all know by now, over the weekend U.S. lawmakers reached a budget deal that will keep the government in business through next Friday, April 15, as well as a tentative agreement on plan that will fund operations through the end of the fiscal year. Both houses are expected to debate the plan today and it is expected to be voted on, and approved, on Wednesday. That was all good news to the National Park Service, who were facing a complete closure of all of the national parks on the eve of a week dedicated to celebrating “America’s best idea.”

Next Saturday, April 16, marks the beginning of National Parks Week. The festivities will actually run through Sunday, April 24, and include free admission to more than a hundred parks and monuments across the country. (See a complete list here.) There are also more than 370 special activities planned across the park system for the week as well, all of which would have been canceled had a budget compromise not been reached.

The NPS isn’t the only one breathing a sigh of relief today. Many communities across the country rely on the national parks to help fuel their economies, and a shutdown could have spelled disaster for those places. The parks were actually shuttered as part of a government shutdown back in 1995 and 1996, and it is estimated that park-dependent communities lost an average of $14 million per day. The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) estimated a shutdown this year would put that number closer to $30 million.

The fact that the parks remain open today is good news for travelers as well. Spring is a perfect time to visit many of the parks, which are coming alive after the long winter months. There is no doubt that many of us have trips planned to one or more of these fantastic places in the near future, and we don’t have to scramble to change or cancel those plans today. Barring any unforeseen problems with approving the budget this week, it seems that fans of the national parks can continue to enjoy their favorite destinations this year.

What effect would a government shutdown have on the national parks?

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.