Last night, as the hours on the clock ticked away, and the possibility of a government shutdown became more and more likely, members of my community shared their concerns on Facebook. I live in Luray, Va., a town supported heavily by nearby Shenandoah National Park. It's a town where many of the families — including mine — have at least one member who works for the national park in some capacity; a town where the restaurants, hotels, and local businesses stay afloat thanks to the tourist dollars that pour in during tourist season. And in this East Coast, fall-foliage heavy national park, October is prime season for tourists.
So yeah, it's safe to say that my little town, and the dozen or so like it that surround Shenandoah National Park will be heavily hit by this morning's government shutdown. And we certainly aren't alone. All 401 National Park Service sites, which collectively average about 715,000 visitors per day in October, will be closed. Each of those sites supports the dozen or two dozen communities that surround it. The National Park Service plays an active role in the 3,141 counties that surround national park sites.
According to a report from the Congressional Research Service released this year, national park service closures during the 1995-96 shutdowns resulted in the loss of an estimated 7 million visitors, costing millions of dollars in revenue to the surrounding communities.
But what if you don't live near a national park site? Guess what: these national park closures will still affect you. Obviously, if you visiting, or were planning to visit, a national park anytime soon, your plans just got changed. Guests staying in campgrounds and on-site hotels in national parks will be told this morning that they have 48 hours to leave. School field trips have been canceled. All of the Smithsonian's 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoo will turn visitors away.
Outside industries will be affected as well. Thousands of projects — from fisheries studies in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska to rehab work from Super Storm Sandy on Ellis Island in New York to fire-prevention projects in my own Shenandoah National Park just got put on hold or canceled. This affects outside industries and private industries that depend on lucrative contracts to work in national park sites. Scientific studies at universities around the country will be interrupted or compromised due to the inability of researchers to enter national parks and collect data.
Thanks to the recent addition of First State National Monument in Delaware, there are now national park service sites in every state in the country. So this morning's closure of all 401 of those sites will likely affect you — either as an employee, a visitor, a local community member, or an outside industry. In one way or another another, it will affect you as an American.
And this is just one government agency that will be deeply affected by this morning's government shutdown. In all, about 800,000 federal employees lost all or part of their family income overnight — and this at a time when many were already hit hard by unexpected furloughs thanks to sequestration. For the sake of all of these employees, let's hope this shutdown is resolved soon.
For more on the government shutdown, check out these related posts from MNN: