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Will national parks close if there is a government shutdown?

Congress has until the end of Thursday to agree additional federal funding or risk the prospect of some government agencies going into temporary shutdown.

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Will national parks close again if there is a government shutdown?
Andy Clark REUTERS

On Monday the Senate failed to approve a key procedural vote which would have provided short-term funding to avoid a government shutdown at the end of this month. Republicans had refused to support the legislative package put forward by the Democrats, which would have also raised the debt ceiling; something that most GOP members as a line in the sand.

Congress has so far been unable to pass the various financial spending bills required to fund the federal government for the next 12 months and now faces the very real possibility that no solution will be found before the 1 October deadline.

The potential repercussions of such a failure are myriad, with the possibility that federally-maintained sites like national parks would be forced to close in the coming days.

Would national parks close if the government goes into shutdown?

Federal agencies have been told to prepare for the prospect of a shutdown if a new budget agreement cannot be found, with the very real possibility that national parks would be unable to remain open for visitors.

A similar situation arose in 2018 when a budget deadlock in Congress saw many public space services limited and the number of park personnel reduced, although the parks were then able to stay open. It would depend on the size of deficit in the federal budget and which agencies and organisations have their funding removed.

While the temporary closing of some national parks may seem fairly trivial in comparison to other consequences of a government shutdown, it could have serious repercussions. Park superintendent Bill Wade warns that a sudden removal of park resources could leave visitors in potentially dangerous areas like the Everglades and Death Valley without any form of support in case of emergency.

What will happen if national parks are forced to close?

National Parks Traveler, an independent non-profit magazine dedicated to covering national parks an protected areas, were told by National Park Staff in Washington, D.C. that there was no guarantee that the parks would remain open this time.

They shared a document published during the Trump Administration, which outlines the steps that national parks may have to take if the federal government went into shutdown.

It reads: "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.”

Continuing: “National and regional offices and support centers will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to support excepted personnel. These steps will be diligently carried out while still ensuring visitor and employee safety as well as the integrity of park resources."

There is, of course, no guarantee that these steps will be employed this time but it gives an idea of what the US’ national parks could look like in the event of a prolonged government shutdown.