October 2, 2013

Government Shutdown Closes National Parks, Regional Recreation and Business Affected


You’ve heard it by now. It’s stupid. We’re not into the politics, even though it is a political issue that has created this problem, so we suggest you educate yourself on that part elsewhere if you’d like. We want to talk about how the government shutdown is affecting areas around the country just like here in the Gunnison valley of Colorado. We’re talking about areas where people rely on their National Parks, US National Forest, and BLM-managed lands for their livelihoods and recreation.  Just to reiterate, that’s here.

Photo: Mark Ewing at Arches National Park on October 1st, 2013

Our friend Matt Zazzi doing what he loves in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Our friend Matt Zazzi doing what he loves in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

As of October 1st, there is an absence of appropriations for the “non-essential” parts of the federal government. The Department of the Interior manages National Park Service sites and BLM lands while the Department of Agriculture manages the US National Forest.  Therefore, all services within those departments have been suspended other than those deemed essential, which is mostly law enforcement, emergency and disaster assistance, and limited management of ongoing projects that are funded by non-lapsing appropriations. To let that sink in, National Park Service sites, alone, average 715,000 visitors per day in October at 401 locations around the country; they will all be closed. That not only affects tourists who cannot visit closed sites, but it affects the nearby communities that support those sites and therefore are supported by National Park Service sites, such as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. You might have heard of it.  They average 230,000 visits per year there, and even if it’s the currently the off-season, you know that some people aren’t going to work there today whether for the government itself or for their own guiding or small business. People that wanted to climb, fish, or camp down there won’t be doing that either. This goes all the way down the line within the federal government (think all the Smithsonian museums in Washington, DC being closed). That’s extremely frustrating.

Switching over concerning the US National Forest lands,the active services also only include what is deemed essential to protect life and property.  You probably noticed Forest Service land everywhere when you got here, it is also the reason for living here for many one way or another. You can still access the lands because the roads that take you there are normally county and state roads, but you cannot use public facilities or campsites managed by the Forest Service or expect anybody to answer the phone or websites to work when you need to understand what the heck is actually going on. Or if you’re trying to run a business that depends on Forest Service permits for guiding, events, or large groups, etc, good luck with that.

You can see how this affects different people at different magnitudes.  Your “non-essential” friends that work for the federal government are on furlough, which is basically unpaid leave that may or may not be paid back.  Your friends working on National Park/Forest Service/BLM contracts probably aren’t working because they can’t get paid. Your friends visiting nearby national park sites like the 7 we have in Colorado or the 10 in Utah are going to be turned around at the gate, or already have been. Your friend as a small business owner dependent on cooperation with the US Forest Service can’t go about their business.  Maybe those things happened specifically to you.

There are endless scenarios from river permits, camping trips, various jobs, specials events, just to name a few, that are affecting thousands of people across the country right now specifically with regards to recreation, science, and small businesses. This government shutdown has been carried out across all the federal departments with the furlough of 800,000 employees around the country. But we know the damage doesn’t stop there after just looking at how it is affecting us here.  Last time this happened in the 1990s it lasted 21 days. How long will it be this time that we feel like we aren’t getting what we paid for in terms of our tax-payer dollars on our federal public lands, amongst other things?

On the other hand, if you just walk in like you own the place (which you kind of do) and treat our public lands like the pristine beauty they are, all while the federal government has limited law enforcement to do anything about it, then what’s stopping you?

If you’re angry and want to tell somebody, start with your US House Representative and your US Senators (click the links below). Though their offices are technically closed, they have minimal staff to count emails and phone calls:

Rep. Scott Tipton (R), 3rd District

Senator Mark Udall (D)

Senator Michael Bennet (D)

We need the government shutdown to end as soon as possible. People’s livelihoods, happiness, and businesses depend on it.

About the Author

2. Will Dujardin
Will Dujardin is our content editor at West Elk Project. He competes in big mountain competitions and coaches the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team. Skiing is his life and he likes to mix it with other fun things like DH mountain biking and traveling.