There’s finally a bit of good news for travelers impacted by the Federal Government shutdown with the announcement that Utah will reopen five of its national parks despite the ongoing closures around the country.
Utah made a deal with the government to pay to keep its parks open. The state will cough up more than $166,000 a day for up to 10 days for the privilege, with the money going to the National Park Service.
In total, eight Utah attractions will reopen to visitors. This includes five national parks, namely Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Park. In addition, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, as well as the Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments will once again welcome tourists.As we’ve mentioned before, the shutdown hasn’t stopped some visitors from sneaking into the parks, with a number of tourists caught jumping the fences as Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. The reopening of the parks will ensure that visitors are able to get inside and that they pay to do so – a key factor behind the state’s decision to go against the shutdown.
Utah’s Governor says the state’s national parks are fundamental to the local economy and the closures had come at a particularly bad time. Good weather tends to draw large crowds in October, meaning the parks usually earn about $100 million during this month alone.
Utah’s national parks will reopen by Saturday.
With the House Republicans and virtually everyone else in government refusing to play nice, it appears the U.S. might be headed toward another costly shutdown. How might this affect the travel industry?
First, if you’re planning to visit Yosemite or any other national park, start making other vacation plans. A government shutdown means all national parks, government-owned museums like the Smithsonian and other attractions will be closed. All employees considered non-essential –- which, if you’ve ever spent any time with a Park Ranger, you know that’s a complete lie -– will be furloughed and not paid during any shutdown.
This is a massive blow to not only travelers, but the folks whose livelihoods depend on those travelers, like the diner waitresses near the National Zoo or the hotel owners throughout Acadia National Park. According to the Christian Science Monitor, during the 26-day government shutdown in 1995 and 1996, the closure of those sites meant a net loss of 9 million visitors and untold millions in lost revenue to the surrounding communities.
While passport workers will likely remain on duty, expect rampant delays. During the last shutdown, more than 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed. Tens of thousands of entry visas for foreign travel also went unprocessed each day.
Air-traffic controllers and Homeland Security personnel should remain on the job, but it’s not known if a potential shutdown will affect their jobs in other ways.
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.
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.