National Park Shutdown: Move the Barricades or Write to Congress?

Candice Gaukel Andrews October 15, 2013 13

On October 1, 2013, all national parks, including Zion, were shut down when Congress failed to enact a funding bill. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

It was supposed to be a fall wedding in the heart of Yosemite National Park’s beautiful, famed valley. That was my son and his bride’s plan, until the government shut down the park on October 1, 2013, five days before the ceremony was to take place on October 5.

The closing of our national parks may not have had such an immediate and palpable, personal effect on you as it has on me; but as a fellow American, losing access to our national parks has certainly touched you. National parklands belong to us—we, the people—a notion Ken Burns reminded us of in his PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea: “The national parks embody a radical idea, as uniquely American as the Declaration of Independence, born in the United States nearly a century after its creation. It is a truly democratic idea, that the magnificent natural wonders of the land should be available not to a privileged few, but to everyone.”

I admit that I considered moving the barricades that blocked entrance to Yosemite Valley when I was there two weekends ago. At that time, little did I realize that on that same day, about a dozen people in Zion National Park had that exact thought.

I briefly considered moving the barricades into Yosemite’s beautiful valley. @John T. Andrews

Losing much-needed funds

On October 5, several people climbed over the gates at Zion National Park. According to Outside Magazine, people at two other national parks did similar acts. Natural Habitat Adventures’ founder and president Ben Bressler recently stated, “The closure of America’s national parks is incredibly disappointing. These wild areas are the people’s land, entrusted to the government to act as stewards for the animals, the environs and all the people who depend on these lands for their livelihoods.”

In fact, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees have put numbers on the lost “livelihoods” that Ben speaks of; based on October 2012 government park attendance data and an analysis of economic impacts by Headwaters Economics, these figures are:

Lost visitors: 715,000 a day
Lost spending:
$76 million a day
Lost revenue to the federal government, in the form of entrance fees and rentals:
$450,000 a day

And with the national park shutdown now a day past its second week, we can multiply those numbers by 15.

Among the parks that have felt the biggest impacts in the first 10 days are:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee): 257,534 lost visitors and $23.1 million lost visitor dollars.
Grand Canyon National Park
(Arizona): 120,000 lost visitors and $11.8 million lost visitor dollars.
Yosemite National Park
(California): 106,849 lost visitors and $10 million lost visitor dollars.

Reminding us how much we love our parks

Some would say that I did the right thing by not moving those Yosemite barricades; that we Americans stand to lose even more by visiting without permission, and that we should limit our peaceful protests to Washington, D.C. Going into the parks without having most of the rangers back to work would only enable looting, poaching and vandalism. And with so few rangers on duty, search-and-rescue operations for hikers who become lost, injured or ill in the backcountry are now almost impossible.

Luckily, the bride and groom had a sense of humor about the national park shutdown. @John T. Andrews

Recently, some national parks have decided to open on state funds. But it’s not known whether our national parks will ever be able to recover from this shutdown. After a steady decline in federal funding (20 percent over the last decade), intensified by this year’s budget sequestration’s additional 5 percent cuts, our parks are strapped. The National Park Service’s maintenance and repair backlog is in the billions of dollars. This year, several parks have been forced to cut services, such as many of their popular ranger programs. And every day that our parks our closed, ground is lost on protecting the extraordinary natural and cultural assets housed within them. If there is any silver lining to denying us access, it is that we once again realize how important our national parks are. We Americans love our national parks, whether we have immediate plans to visit them or not.

As for our family wedding, it went off anyway. It took place in a lovely mountain meadow in the High Sierras, near the Yosemite National Park border.

How has the closing of our national parks affected you? Regardless of your political leanings, how have you responded? Is it better to physically “storm the gates,” or send a written message to Congress?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,



  1. Francis Reilly October 17, 2013 at 8:58 am - Reply

    And now that the short term short sighted deal is inked, let’s give those who work for us in our national places a little bit of time to get up to speed before we start requiring the services in our national places. It is not just like throwing a light switch to open these places up.

  2. Francis Reilly October 17, 2013 at 8:58 am - Reply

    I agree with James. Furthermore to those who say, “well why can’t I vist, I’m not actually needing any government services,” try to keep in perspective that it has been just over a month since the national monuments were defaced by the green paint incident, and several western wildfires are still burning. We DO need the federal workers who support the parks, national forests, national seashores, national historic sites, and national monuments.

  3. Phillip D'Amato October 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    The whole thing was a waste of time and energy and money.rinse and repeat in 3 months.

  4. Andrew Wyatt October 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    It appears that it cost more money to shut them down than to have left them open; including all of the private businesses with NPS contracts. Major breech of trust with the American public who own the parks, but were denied access. I understand that it was self serving politicians and the Administration who wanted to inflict as much pain on the public for their own political ends. Nevertheless, it was foolish of DOI Secretary Jewell to allow herself to be used as a political pawn. I expected more of her.

  5. Paul Johnson October 16, 2013 at 11:37 am - Reply

    The whole argument appears to be from an anthropogenic viewpoint. In terms of protection of a park’s landscape, fauna and flora, a spell without people may actually be beneficial!

  6. Steven M. Thiese, M.S. October 16, 2013 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Here in Utah, Governor Gary Herbert and Interior Secretary Jewell hammered out an agreement to open the 5 national parks in southern Utah — Zions, Bryce, Arches, etc. While many are applauding this move, the reality is that he really had no choice. These national parks bring in some $4 million per day to Utah’s anemic economy. With an election looming in 2014 and the budget lacking because of the slow recovery, he really had no choice.

  7. James Crants October 16, 2013 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Moving the barricades sends no coherent message to the people responsible for the whole damn mess of which the closing parks are one minor result. They can interpret it however they please. It also presents a risk that you will need rescuing at a time when it’s an exceptionally big strain on the Park Service to have to rescue anybody. I’m not sure how effective it is to write to Congress, either, but at least it gives you a way to state your opinion unambiguously.

    There is also an urgent need for state-level action. Gridlock in the House has everything to do with the gerrymandering of congressional districts to create safe seats for each party. Districting is a state-level issue. If we ever want functional government again, we have to demand state districting systems that yield competitive districts.

  8. Elizabeth Armstrong, Ph.D. October 16, 2013 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Personally, I find the National Park shutdown an opportunity for land to lay fallow so natural systems may recover from the onslaught of human activities. Human development has destroyed valuable wildlife habitat and food. The irony is that natural ecosystems provide humans with valuable products and services for survival; such as oxygen and bioremediation. My vote is for supporting natural space that is used for natural ecosystems. There is a suggesting from the Findhorn Garden in Northern Scotland that states the importance of leaving some land for natural ecosystems.

  9. Carla Grames October 16, 2013 at 9:09 am - Reply

    I am forwarding this to my congressmen! The battle of egos, from both sides, had to end! This has little or nothing to do about the government it is all about personal/party power. Congress needs to take a “field trip” to our National Parks and surrounding areas to see what this shut down is doing. To paraphrase JFK it isn’t about either party it is about doing what is right for the country. I hope that in future years my grandchildren can visit these great treasures of America in their full glory and not say this used to be glorious.

  10. Douglas Owens-Pike October 16, 2013 at 5:39 am - Reply

    a friend is coming to Minneapolis this Saturday for a 3 day trip down the
    Wild and Scenic St Croix R on the WI – MN boarder. The outfitter who we rented a canoe and livery service from stated they are not allowed to drop us off. There is no other way for us to do this, without a 3rd driver & a canoe that we don’t have.
    We remain hopeful it will be resolved before Monday.

    To me a larger question looms: how can we continue subsidizing unsustainable corn production? Perhaps this revolt by a few US Reps will allow a discussion of what our government supports and why. Certainly health care is a necessary fact of life. If employers do not provide and public finds it too expensive to purchase then the costs escalate if people do not receive preventive assessments. Emergency room visits are more expensive than a clinic to evaluate poor health.

    The current debate seems too self-centered and greedy. Those blocking Affordable Care Act seem content with current system that is not working except for those with higher incomes with employers that cover their health plan. I’d love to see some filter on who is allowed to even run for office: do you care about the common person? If not, don’t put yourself in a position where you are just protecting the rights of those who are already cared for and comfortable.

    Our natural resources are under siege. We certainly need more resource protection/management not less. As a graduate of U of WA College of Forestry I saw most of my fellow graduates have to take jobs outside resource management to program computers or something completely unrelated to our majors. We are killing ourselves as we destroy our biosphere. Climate change and pollution will result in a drastic reordering of our earth. Those left will be living less prosperous lives and there will be far less people. Maybe that is necessary for the next stage of evolution. Just sad to see what had been operating so efficiently just decades ago now plundered for the immense profit of a few.

  11. Michael Armstrong October 15, 2013 at 1:18 pm - Reply
  12. John Daly October 15, 2013 at 8:08 am - Reply

    I have signed many petitions and I have gone over barriers. So I say do both.

  13. Ella Jeans October 15, 2013 at 8:07 am - Reply

    You can always come here to Canada and experience our amazing National Parks since you can’t get into yours.
    We’d be only to happy to have you visit.

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