National Parks During a Government Shutdown

National Park Shutdown

National Parks in the U.S.A. are usually open 365 days a year.  When legislators and the President fail to fund the operations of government, the Park Service furloughs non-essential workers.   Usually these periods are short and the parks are open after a few days.  This year’s long shutdown left the parks open to visitors, but without staff to take care of them.

The rules of behavior, laws and regulations still apply to park visitors.  Unfortunately some don’t understand the rules and others ignore them. Some people lack the ability to obey rules without the oversight of law enforcement.

Here’s what happened at several National Parks this January:

Yosemite National Park

yosemite in winterVolunteers came forward to help educate park visitors and clean up the mess they left behind.  Restrooms were closed,  but volunteers and contributors brought in porta potties. Trash littered picnic areas and at least one picnicker left their picnic to wander off.  This is prohibited due to the attraction this offers to bears – and no, all the bears weren’t hibernating.  Later on, a winter storm closed the park.  Find a first person description on Vox.

Death Valley National Park

Off road vehicles are going off road in closed areas and campers are camping in prohibited areas.  There are reports of off road tracks, including donuts, on sensitive areas.  This kind of damage can last decades and detract from the experience others can have in the park.  There has also been some vandalism of park facilities. National Parks Traveler has the story.

Zion National Park

Zion NP in WinterZion was in a low use period so there were few visitors there.  This offered unusual solitude for those that did make the visit.  Outside funding, some through the Zion Forever Foundation,  kept a ranger at the visitor center.  Restrooms were available and clean.  The lack of other personnel meant no backcountry or climbing permits were available.  The local sheriff was doing patrols through the park.  Get the story from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Joshua Tree National Park

Two to four rangers will be patrolling the park each day and the park remains open.  Like the other parks,  there is little in the way of search and rescue services if visitors get in trouble.  Vault toilets were soon full so campsites were closed.  Some people are driving off roads and there are reports of some visitors cutting down the iconic trees.  Desert Sun has more. 

Shenandoah National Park

Susan Sherman, executive director of the Shenandoah National Park Trust told Virginia Public Radio,“Folks that just don’t normally visit national parks are coming to national parks, and it’s probably because there’s no entrance fees, the gates are up, and there’s a sense that there’s very light law enforcement.”  There has been some vandalism and theft at the park with only a few, unpaid, rangers on duty.  Volunteers have been helping with maintenance chores.  Details from Virginia Public Radio.

Rocky Mountain National Park

The park was closed because the snow covered roads couldn’t be plowed.  Then the Park Service decided to use funds collected for other purposes to keep the park minimally open and the roads were plowed.  Guided trips for skiers and snowshoers were cancelled.  Visitation is down and volunteers are helping with maintenance.  More from New York Times.

Acadia National Park

Acadia in WinterWhile there are few federal employees at work, volunteers, including the Friends of Acadia group, are grooming ski trails and keeping roads open.  Maine Public Radio has the story.

Crater Lake National Park

Facilities are closed.  The main road to park headquarters is plowed to provide residents emergency egress, but it’s closed to the public.  While some people think they can walk to the lake, it’s a long, steep, uphill trip in deep snow that requires snowshoes or skis and significant expertise in winter backcountry travel.  Don’t try it!  The road from park headquarters to the rim is snowed in.  The rim road is closed for the winter.  While you shouldn’t expect to get to the lake,  there are opportunities for cross country skiing along highway 62 in the park.  With little to no staff available you’ll be on your own in an emergency.  More from the Herald and News.


You get the idea.  In heavily used parks the issues are considerably more difficult than in the more remote parks. The parks that are covered in snow offer an opportunity for snowmobile access that has caused problems in some areas.  Volunteers are helping where they can.

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