A government shutdown is never a good thing, but there is one tiny little bright spot we can appreciate during this current closure. Unlike the last shutdown, some National Parks are remaining open! Of course, not all are, and some are open in varying capacities, so wading through which you can visit and which you can’t is a bit confusing, but something is better than nothing, right?
During the last shutdown in 2013, there was a lot of backlash over the fact that the NPS was deemed “inessential” and all parks closed. It culminated with groups of veterans pushing past barriers to be able to pay their respects at war memorials in D.C. This shutdown, things are being run a bit differently.
It’s approximated that about a third of the National Parks are fully closed. That includes Philly’s Independence National Historical Park, Acadia National Park, Mount Rainer, and others. Additionally, all Smithsonian museums in D.C. closed as of Monday.
Most parks remain “semi-open”… that is, you can visit, but visitor centers, bathrooms, and even some roads will probably not be open. In the case of Yellowstone, you could snowmobile into the park (for free), but not drive. Joshua Tree, Yosemite, the Smokies, Shenandoah, Zion, Olympic, Badlands, and more are examples of parks being open, but with no amenities. The general attitude is “visit at your own risk”. Concessionaires, like the ones in Yellowstone, might remain operating, but visiting a park that isn’t staffed by rangers can be dicey. Untreated icy roads or getting lost because you don’t have a map from a visitor center are among the dangers… not to mention visiting a park that doesn’t have a clean bathroom.
A few, like Glacier National Park, the Grand Canyon, and the Statue of Liberty will remain almost completely open, thanks to state governments stepping in. Figuring out which parks and monuments are open and which aren’t is almost a hit-or-miss deal. In Boston, the USS Constitution is open, but Bunker Hill is closed. Everglades National Park is closed, but boat tour operators are still giving tours in the park. Rocky Mountain National Park is open, but don’t expect them to plow snow off the roads, making a visit impractical for many.
There is a general rule of thumb for figuring out which parks will be open and which won’t be. Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift’s written statement outlines that “open-air parks and war memorials” will remain open, “limited access” will be available wherever possible (basically, places that don’t require staff will remain open… so a primitive bathroom might be accessible. Or, safe roads will remain open, but no new snow plowing will occur. That kind of thing.) Services that require staff or a lot of maintenance, like campgrounds or visitor centers, will be closed. Any areas that are delicate, culturally sensitive, or too risky, will be closed off as well.
More National Parks fun to read about while we wait for everything to fully re-open…