National park offerings vary during federal shutdown


On Dec. 23 – two days into the partial government shutdown – Death Valley National Park in California stays very busy as vehicles are parked in spaces and along edges of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes parking lot. PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
By : 
LISA BRAINARD
Journey vs. Destination

When considering topics to write about this week, one theme leaped out at me from press releases of the National Park Service (NPS). The federal government has ceased non-essential operation. You may have opinions on why this is occurring – and whether or not the closure is appropriate. But that’s not our discussion here.

National parks are closed (at least they are as I write this on Dec. 24, an early deadline due to the Christmas holiday.) What does that mean for us? With time off over the holidays, can a person visit a national park?

Voyageurs

First, let’s look at Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. A Dec. 22 press release from this park near International Falls stated, “During the shutdown of the federal government due to the lapse of appropriations, national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Park roads and trails at Voyageurs National Park will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services will be limited.

“There will be no NPS-provided visitor services at Voyageurs National Park including public information, restrooms, trash collection and facilities and roads maintenance, including plowing and snowmobile trail grooming.

“Because of the federal government shutdown, NPS social media and websites are not being monitored or updated and may not reflect current conditions. All park programs have been canceled at this time.

“For updates on the shutdown, please visit www.doi.gov/shutdown.”

Badlands

Or maybe you’re thinking of a quick Christmas break in South Dakota. Here’s a Dec. 23 press release from Badlands National Park at Interior, SD: “During the federal government shutdown, Badlands will remain open. However, there will be no visitor services, and hazardous or dangerous conditions may exist.

“Highway 240 (Loop Road) and Sage Creek Rim Road will remain open if weather conditions allow. However, rangers will close roads if weather conditions are unsafe for travel. Pinnacles Overlook, Big Badlands Overlook, Cliff Shelf and the Notch Trail will remain open. Please note emergency services will be limited during the shutdown.

“Please visit www.nps.gov and select ‘Find a Park’ for additional information about access to other parks and sites in the area. However, note that because of the federal government shutdown, NPS social media and websites are not being monitored or updated and may not reflect current conditions.”

It also shared the same link as noted above, www.doi.gov/shutdown.

Mount Rushmore

National park units that include facilities operated by private concessioners have slightly different offerings during the shutdown. Here’s some of the press release from Mount Rushmore National Memorial (I’ve tried to edit out most of the duplicated information.)

“During the shutdown of the federal government due to the lapse of appropriations, national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures. Park roads and the grounds at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, will remain accessible to visitors, but emergency and rescue services will be limited.

“There will be no NPS-provided visitor services at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, including public information, restrooms, trash collection, and facilities and roads maintenance (including plowing). Some restaurants and other services may be available when provided by concessioners or other entities.

“Services available include those operated by Xanterra Parks and Resorts, Inc., authorized park concessioner: the parking facility (fee required); Carver's Marketplace (food, beverages and restrooms); and the gift shop. Contact Xanterra for operating hours at 605-574-2515.

“The NPS will not be providing services for NPS-operated restrooms.  In addition, the sculpture lights will not be turned on during the duration of the government shutdown.”

Death Valley

For a change of pace, here’s a national park that’s remaining busy. Check some of the info I pulled from a Dec. 23 press release:

“Large numbers of people are visiting Death Valley National Park this week in spite of the limited services due to the partial government shutdown.

“The Oasis at Death Valley, Stovepipe Wells Resort and Panamint Springs resort are privately operated and are remaining fully open with lodging, camping, fuel and restaurants available.

“Most roads and hiking areas in Death Valley National Park remain accessible to the public. Emergency and rescue services are limited. Two areas, Salt Creek and Natural Bridge, have been closed for resource protection.

“Due to the lapse in federal appropriations, the National Park Service (NPS) is not providing visitor services such as trash collection, restrooms, facility maintenance, or public information. Due to the lack of services, visitors are advised to use extreme caution when entering the park. Visitors are also asked to take trash with them and help keep their park clean.

“The winter holidays are one of the busiest times in Death Valley. Parking lots at popular destinations such as Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Badwater are overflowing with cars. By the end of Sunday, two days into the shutdown, piles of trash surrounded trash cans.

“The NPS will not be providing services for NPS-operated campgrounds, including maintenance, janitorial, bathrooms, check-in/check-out, and reservations. However, visitors in NPS-operated campgrounds will not be asked to leave unless safety concerns require such action. Visitors holding campground reservations should be aware that there is no guarantee their reserved campsite will be ready and available should they arrive during a government shutdown.”

So yes, it’s a mixed-up mess. You may just want to avoid it, which is advice you don’t find me giving often. Wait until things are settled. Find some nice area park to check out instead. Or – and don’t faint at this idea coming from my keyboard – find a nice Hallmark movie, make popcorn and settle in. So it goes.

I really hope this shutdown is not an omen for how 2019 will proceed. Have a Happy New Year in any case.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this column weekly for over 15 years.

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