The unfortunate consequences of the government shutdown continue to ripple out and become more and more apparent. As the government reaches its 17th day of closure, the National Park Service is truly beginning to suffer. Continuing the nationwide management of various landmarks is proving to be quite challenging. Therefore, the National Park Service will fund operations by setting up entrance fees.
The Impact of the Government Shutdown
On Saturday, Interior Department’s acting secretary David Bernhardt put forth a memo which detailed stipulations for park managers allowance of spending funds. Park managers were granted approval to use the aforementioned fees to clean restrooms, patrol parks, carry out trash, and observe open areas which are currently closed as lawmakers struggle to reach common ground on budgeting. In most cases like these, the National Park Service chooses to employ a skeleton staff; although, this has proven to be quite challenging, particularly at monuments and popular parks.
Daniel Smith, the National Park Service Deputy Director, issued the following public statement about the management of parks during the government shutdown:
“As the lapse in appropriations continues, it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners. We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services.”
However, the employment of entrance fees has not gone without certain degrees of controversy. As a matter of fact, some people are even wondering whether or not such fees are legal. According to the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, park entrance fees are specifically designed to maintain the services of visitors. They are not meant to cover general upkeep and operations.
The memo released by Bernhardt on Saturday makes a few points very clear. Firstly, parks which have capital are allowed to use them for various operations. These operations include sanitation, trash collection, entrance staff, road maintenance, law enforcement, campground operation, and emergency operations which are deemed “as necessary to provide critical safety operations.”
However, not all lawmakers are in agreement with the aforementioned memo. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the incoming chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment, and related agencies, expressed opposition to the decision. McCollum even attempted to persuade Bernhardt against the decision.
See for yourself her statement down below:
“The Department of Interior is very likely violating appropriations law. I want to see our parks open, but I want to see our entire government open the right way, following the law. We are certainly going to be doing oversight as the acting secretary moves forward with this, and he will be hearing from me directly. This will not open up the parks in any safe, effective manner for tourists to have a safe and enjoyable experience.”
Roughly 16,000 of the National Park Service’s winter workforce are facing furloughs as the government remains shut down.
At this time, the number of parks which will employ service fees to cover certain expenses remains unclear. This is, in part, attributed to the fact that only 115 of the 418 park sites obtain entrance fees.
Smith delivered the following statement to the public:
“While the [National Park Service] will not be able to fully open parks, and many of the smaller sites around the country will remain closed, utilizing these funds now will allow the American public to safely visit many of the nation’s national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve.”