by Kraig Becker
The big story of the week has of course been the complete shutdown of the U.S. government which has resulted in many of the tasks typically associated with running the country coming to a halt. Only the most essential of services are currently in operation while Congress attempts to find a solution to the budget issues that have brought them to this stalemate. One of the most tangible results of the shutdown has been the complete closure of the national park system which has put a crimp in a lot of fall travel plans for outdoor enthusiasts. But it turns out the impact of the park closures runs so much deeper than that. The small towns and communities that have sprung up on the borders of the park are now feeling an economic pinch as lose millions of dollars per day in revenue.
Last week, as the shutdown was looming, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a memo detailing just how disastrous closing the parks would be for local economies. In that memo the NPCA estimates that had they remained opened the parks would have seen an average of about 750,000 visitors per day. In addition to paying for admittance into the parks, those visitors also spend a considerable amount of money in local shops, restaurants and hotels. The fact that those travelers are now unable to visit the parks at all means that they are taking their money elsewhere. For each day that the parks remain closed the NPCA estimates that $30 million in revenue is lost. That is a considerable sum of money that directly funds jobs in a any national park gateway town.
On the day that the shutdown officially went into effect the NPCA released a statement from Acting President Theresa Pierno. In that memo the organization expressed its deep disappointment in both the Congress and the President for allowing the budget crisis to get to the point where fundamental services are being shuttered. The statement also expresses concern for the 21,000 National Park Service staff members who are now furloughed indefinitely without pay.
It should be noted that several members of Congress proposed legislation that would provide temporary funding to reopen the parks but the proposal was quickly shot down. President Obama indicated he would veto any such action saying that Congress doesn’t have the authority to pick and choose which services to keep running while they sort out these ongoing budget issues. So for now, and for the foreseeable future, the parks will remain closed pending a compromise being reached.
It is never a good time to close the national parks of course, but the fall is especially bad for those who enjoy visiting them. Crowds are traditionally smaller during the autumn months and the leaves are now starting to change to the brilliant colors of the season. Hopefully the closure will be brief and we’ll all have access to these public spaces again soon.