You are here

Signs Indicate Federal Government Shutdown Would Save Little In National Park Circles


A shutdown of the federal government, while shuttering most of the National Park System, might not save much money, as local economies would be stung and the National Park Service still would have to maintain some presence in the parks.

According to David Barna, the Park Service's chief of communications in Washington, average daily visitation to parks throughout the system reaches about 805,000 in April. Those visitors, in turn, spend about $32 million in the parks and surrounding communities, he added.

What Mr. Barna couldn't say, though, was how much the Park Service spends to keep "essential" personnel on the job during a shutdown. "We are not speculating on the costs or impacts of a possible closure," he said.

But Gary Cummins, who was deputy superintendent at Grand Canyon National Park in 1995, the last time the government was shut down, said the costs are not insignificant.

"I think that a good point to make on this kind of silliness is that although the differences over budget matters are what drive such closures, you could make a point that the expense of keeping the Canyon closed was nearly the same as keeping it open," he said. "Rangers had to man every single trailhead, including places like Lee's Ferry, to ensure that visitors did not enter the Canyon.  This meant 24-hour coverage, thus large  overtime costs. 

"If a visitor entered the closed Grand Canyon and got into trouble, of course we would have to get them out. Not to do so would almost certainly result in negligence lawsuits, etc.," Mr. Cummins added. "Then, of course, the closure imposed huge inconvenience and disappointment to the best visitors - the ones who wanted to experience what Grand Canyon is really about."

Indeed, keeping visitors out of parks during a closer won't always be easy. Some parks, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches, and Acadia, have relatively few entrances that can be gated, but there are others, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Newfound Gap Road is a state highway that can't be closed by the Park Service.

The road would remain open, noted Great Smokies spokesman Bob Miller, but there would be no services, such as the restroom facilities at either end. Additionally, staff would use cones to indicate drives to overlooks and parking for trailheads are closed, he said.

“People could drive through, but there pretty much wouldn’t be any place to stop," said Mr. Miller said Friday morning.

Of course, he added that while law enforcement personnel will be on the job, they can't be everywhere at all times and some people might simply choose to move the cones and park their cars for a hike or look just the same.

“We would have some amount of enforcement, but people are free to break the
law anytime they please. We know that that will happen,
realistically," he said.

At the same time, if storms knock trees across roads or cause rock or mud slides that close roads, those would not be cleaned up until the government was back in business, said the spokesman.

But apparently not all parks will be entirely shutdown. At Gettysburg National Military Park, guided tours of the battlefield run by contracted businesses and the visitors center and museum, which are run by the non-profit Gettysburg Foundation, reportedly would stay open.

Featured Article


I understand the parks would technically be closed. A shame, but it is the way of the world we live in.
But why does the staff at GSMNP have to cone off the turnouts? How much additional time and money are we (land managers and staff) wasting to implement this potential shutdown? I got at least 8 emails yesterday from all levels of my agency (not NPS) about the shutdown. There are certainly legitimate concerns (what happens to permitted events scheduled for Saturday morning?) but lets not waste more of our time and limited funding enabling this political squabble.

You are so right! The impact to the local economy will be serious and the gov't won't be saving very much money! Most parks will still have their Law Enforcement and Maintanance staff working. I wish we could still keep the parks open with the understanding that there would be limited services such as no visitor centers, no ranger led programs etc. More than half of our public lands managed by FWS, FS, BLM operate in this manner everyday and people get along just fine. Why can't we expect the same in our National Parks during the shut down?

I have a very specific question about this regarding bison in Yellowstone.

Right now, Yellowstone National Park has some 659 bison in captivity; of those, just under 600 bison are being held at the Stephens Creek Capture Facility inside the park.  There are also government operations - like the APHIS bull study - and sometimes hazing (that 9 times out of 10 involves Park Service; additionally, Forest Service LEOs often participate as road control).  What happens to those operations and to the bison in captivity during a government shutdown?  Are the employees - and which ones doing which jobs - considered essential?

The hazing may be less of a question, as there is a new zone north of the park (at least during the month of April), that hasn't been formally announced (but is being widely reported in the press), and there typically isn't much hazing west of the park in April (it would be a question in a really long shutdown that stretched well into May).  But, those bison that are now being held and fed and watched over at Stephens Creek are a key concern of mine.  I've seen so many of those buffalo captured, seen how badly they look (at least the ones at Corwin Springs), and wonder what the plan is (and why those buffalo just shouldn't be released - or why someone watching a bison abuse facility would be considered an essential government employee.

The hype on the shutdown of the National Parks is a PA ploy to get the citizens po'ed.  The more complaints to your legislatures the better for the Pres and Dems.  They could care less of us who use the parks.  They are there for themselves.  How many Senators or House Representativeshave camped next to you in the past several years?

Would I still be able to enter into the White Mountain National Park in New Hampshire in order to ski Mt. Washington or not?

There is no "White Mountain National Park," Will.  Do you mean New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest?

If you where car camping in Yosemite and the shutdown happened would they make you leave the park?I dont think I would.This is my vacation and my park as it is yours.Could you imagine if the CG was filled 300 + sites and everybody said they where not leaving,what would happen?

Jim d:
If you where car camping in Yosemite and the shutdown happened would they make you leave the park?I dont think I would.This is my vacation and my park as it is yours.Could you imagine if the CG was filled 300 + sites and everybody said they where not leaving,what would happen?

During the last shutdown all the lodging in Yosemite forced out all patrons. They have a clause in their contract about "Force majeure", where things beyond the control of the provider can't be held against them.

They've generally given people time to leave. However - if one doesn't leave, there's a good chance that any vehicle gates will be barricaded.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide