In a moment of extreme irony, at midnight last night Google updated its homepage Doodle to celebrate Yosemite National Park’s 123rd Anniversary at the same exact time the Government Shutdown closed public access to it.
Effective immediately all federal lands are closed – this includes National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management Lands. Employees at most places made these announcements last night or are heading into work for a few hours today to close up shop. Those hoping to look for the latest updates on the situation on these organizations’ web sites and social media accounts will be out of luck – and you won’t even be able to access the subpages to plan for trips in the future, either.
Volunteer assistance in these areas is also not an option. An email I received from one of the Angeles National Forest’s District Recreation Officers announced,
Unfortunately, with the government in shutdown mode, all volunteers need to stop working. Facilities in the Angeles National Forest are closed. Due to the fact the Forest Service cannot have volunteers being exposed to risk and possibly getting injured when the agency is not allowed to expend funds, all volunteer work must be curtailed. Once an appropriations bill is passed by Congress, we can all go back to work.
Until Congress passes that appropriations bill, all hiking areas on federal lands are officially closed – including all trails in the
Angeles National Forest and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Visitors’ Centers are closed, campgrounds are closed, and in many cases access gates may bar roads into these areas. Visitors currently in National Parks are being asked to leave today, and campers currently in those parks have to leave within 48 hours. Hikers with a backcountry permit are allowed to stay until their permits expire. State and County Parks remain open and operational, but in areas of private-public partnership like the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area it can get very confusing – popular trails like Solstice Canyon and Sandstone Peak are off-limits, while nearby areas may be accessible. As KCET notes, “Hikers will be able to access state parks in the Santa Monicas like Point Mugu’s Sycamore Canyon, but cross over the trail’s northern line into Rancho Sierra Vista and you’re officially on closed property.”
As people have commented, many of these areas are wilderness and cannot literally be completely closed off. During the California State Park shutdown a few years ago if you were found in a state park you could be charged with trespassing by law enforcement – although it is unclear whether or not people accessing federal lands during the shutdown would be subject to a similar punishment. Also, because all maintenance work in these areas has to stop, if you do decide to enter the effect of your impact on the land will be increased.
UPDATE: There is some lack of clarity on whether or not the land itself is open. Facilities are most definitely closed, although some spokespeople and outlets are saying that while the parks and forests may be “closed,” access to the trails and undeveloped campsites is still possible. National Park land IS closed and hikers risk citation for trespassing. People are still trying to get a clear, straight answer about National Forest and BLM land, though.
Of course, these cuts also have a severe economic effect beyond the federal employees’ paychecks – National Parks receive almost 300 million annual visitors and generate $30 billion in private sector spending. Roughly, for every dollar the National Parks receive, the local economies get $10 in return.
But more importantly, these areas are a central part of who we are as a country. These incredible places belong to each and every one of us. They are not just places of recreation – they are places of inspiration, rejuvenation, and meditation and their presence in our lives will be acutely felt.
During the last government shutdown in 1995, public outcry from the closure of federal lands helped motivate lawmakers in Washington to, you know, make some laws. A former spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park told the San Jose Mercury News:
“The park closures in 1995 made a tangible difference. The visual of park rangers closing down national parks, closing down the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument — keeping Americans out of these iconic American sites — those visuals were really a strong factor in people understanding what a government shutdown meant. People got mad.”
So if you’re reading this and you’re (rightly) upset – you know who to get mad at. Let them know how you feel.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on October 1, 2013