Thursday, February 24, 2011

Affects of Government Shutdown On National Parks

Contrary to popular caricatures, most Federal agencies employ people dedicated to their job in service to their Country and fellow citizens.  The National Park Service is a prime example where most employees work long hard hours to preserve and protect our natural and cultural resources and those that visit them.
Budget impasses and looming government shutdowns result in high levels of employee frustration and a sense of uncertainty.
It becomes increasing frustrating for National Park managers to work without an approved Federal Budget.  Continuing Resolutions are built of strings and conditions with no guaranteed outcome at the end.  This method of doing business makes it all but impossible to plan for the busy upcoming visitor season.   As an example; if you obligate too many funds for temporary employees who are the backbone of the summer field staffs in parks and then the funds are short in the final budget product, early layoffs result in closing of facilities and lack of protection of delicate resources when the parks are at their maximum visitor capacity.   There were several years when the Blue Ridge Parkway was caught in this situation and seasonal employees had to be laid off in September and October, the most heavily visited times of the year.
Another consequence of a looming government shutdown is the sense of uncertainty of employment.  The vast majority of National Park Service employees are not high level bureaucrats they are people with families that live pay check to pay check like most of their fellow citizens.  When past shutdowns have occurred all but designated essential employees are sent home.  These individuals are left not knowing when they will return to work or be paid again.  Those left working are unsure if they are going to be paid or not for their time.  This all affects employee morale and efficiency.

The ones that really suffer from government shutdowns in National Parks are visitors and the resources that needed the park to be established to protect them.  Visitors who have planned family trips have them disrupted in the least and cancelled in the extreme.  Cultural and natural resources are left unattended and maintained and left open to exploitation and vandalism. 

The current threat of another government shutdown will have a potential impact on the spring opening of National Park facilities such as visitor centers, campgrounds, tour roads, and picnic areas.  As the harsh winter weather starts to break in many parts of the country, now is when park staffs start to prepare parks for the onslaught of visitors to come.  Many infrastructure repairs and maintenance that did not occur in the fall or may have resulted from harsh winter weather need to be evaluated and started within the next month.  A shut down will delay or prevent this work from commencing.  In some cases disrupted or broken water or sewer lines could hide much more serious damage to facilities and resources.  Seasonal employee hiring would be disrupted or discontinued delaying getting the best people in critical jobs for the upcoming spring and summer.

In the eyes of employees government shut downs devalue agency missions and the dedication and efforts of the people trying to do an important job in a trying economic and political climate.


  1. This was the driving force in our purchase of 5 acres adjacent to the George Washington National Forest, Trout Pond Area. We LOVE to camp and we got locked out during a vacation on Hatteras. We wanted a place 'close' to home that would never be closed. When there are no chaperons to parkland, illegal activity can dangerously go unchecked.

  2. US National Parks are true sanctuaries.
    Is it possible that they could be abandonned?
    This year is our 14 th trip to the Southwest.
    Annie, France

  3. For now the threat of a government shutdown of parks has been delayed again. Congress has still not come to an agreement on a full budget. They just keep passing continuing resolutions putting it off. I would try to keep track of US news reports. Should a shutdown occur, some parks will still be accessible but facilities in the parks may be closed. The longest closure that I know of occurred in the mid 90s and lasted 27 days.

    I am not sure that answers your concerns or questions.

  4. As we prepared for a drive up/down the Parkway mid-April, I found your blog. Excellent commentary and best wishes and kudos to all the National Park Service employees. Fingers crossed for budgets passed and warmer weather.

  5. We are supposed to go to Death Valley next week... I booked a four night stay there. It's spring break for my family.... What will we do if there is a shutdown?

    The irony of it all is that my husband is a federal civil servant at NASA himself...

  6. So, what happens to non-government employees in national parks during a shutdown, especially those who live in the parks?