National parks will be open during the government shutdown — but there's a catch
- National parks will remain open during the government shutdown.
- While the parks are open, many services like visitors centers and trash collection will not be open.
- The bare bones staffing for the parks has some conservation groups concerned.
One of the most indelible images of the 2013 government shutdown was the signs posted outside major landmarks and parks announcing their closure.
From the Lincoln Memorial to Yellowstone National Park, the "CLOSED" signs became ammunition in a fight over government funding.
The shutdown that kicked off at midnight Saturday and will continue into the weekend will be a little different though, as the Trump administration announced that national parks will remain open during the lapse in federal funding.
During a press conference, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney — whose office spearheads the shutdown plans for federal agencies — laid out the difference.
"Parks will be open this time, and they weren't before," Mulvaney said. "Let's go down the list. The parks will be open. The way it works is that the parks are open, but the — especially if the services are provided by third parties, but things like the trash won't get picked up."
According to the National Park Services' new contingency plan, the parks will remain open and emergency safety crews will be active, but many amenities will not be provided.
"Parks must notify visitors that the NPS will cease providing visitor services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance (including plowing), campground reservation and check-in/check-out services, backcountry and other permits, and public information," the plans said. "National and regional offices and support centers will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to support excepted personnel."
The only problem is that the shutdown procedure for each park will be wildly different, which the NPS acknowledged, because each is unique and needs a certain level of care in order to operate.
"Due to the dramatic differences in operations, size, visitation, location, and infrastructure represented in national park sites, the number of employees required to carry out the essential activities defined above will vary greatly from site to site," the plan said.
The shutdown of many basic activities, like trash collecting, also has many environmental and preservation groups concerned. The Sierra Club, a public lands conservation and environmental group, said that the move prevents embarrassing headlines but endangers the parks themselves.
"The reality is that our parks can’t operate without the Park Service," Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club's Associate Director of the Outdoors Campaign, said in a statement. "Keeping them open without staff is dangerous for both visitors and for the delicate ecosystems in our parks. Risking both visitors and important cultural sites to win political points is the height of irresponsibility."
Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, expressed similar concern in a statement Friday.
"There is no substitute for National Park Service staff and their expertise, and it is not wise to put the public or our park resources at risk by allowing for half-measures to keep them open," the statement said. "And yet, that’s exactly what the Department of Interior is asking park superintendents to do."
"Keeping parks open with virtually no staff is a risky situation, and the guidance park staff is being given is vague at best."
Congress is set to meet at 12 pm ET on Saturday to try and fund the government and end the shutdown.