Unless you're a government employee or married to one (like me), you might not realize the many ramifications of the federal government shutdown — like all the government agencies affected, particularly our national parks.
The last time the government shut down in 2013, all national parks were closed to the public. Gates were closed and memorials were cordoned off. In fact, the park service even made a point of closing "open air" monuments such as the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. For that, NPS officials and the Obama administration were criticized for "weaponizing" the national parks during the Congressional stalemate.
This time around, things are a bit different, as you can see in the Facebook update from Chiricahua National Monument:
President Trump has ordered that, where feasible, all national parks will remain open to minimize the shutdown's impact on the public. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, about one-third of the National Parks Service's 417 sites have been closed since Saturday. But at the rest, in parks from Yellowstone in Wyoming to the Everglades in Florida, the gates are open — even if the employees are gone. There have even been some creative solutions — like the state of New York paying to keep the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open, simply because it's such an important historical stop.
But as with other government agencies, the park service has declared certain employees — mainly law enforcement and firefighting personnel — as "essential," meaning these employees must continue to work, without pay, throughout the shutdown. So there are still rangers on duty, but there are no staffers at the entrance station to collect fees, at visitor centers to provide information, or in maintenance department to keep buildings such as bathrooms up and running. And with the parks left wide open to the public, the few staff on duty are responsible for everything from protecting the park from vandals to helping visitors find an unlocked bathroom or to fill their water bottles. It's a risky situation for staff, visitors and the parks.
The Trump administration doesn't want the public to feel the effects of this government shutdown, but that doesn't mean this stalemate isn't having a serious effect on the parks.