How Is the Government Shutdown Affecting National Parks?


You can urge your members of Congress to re-open parks and support full funding for the Park Service by taking action on NPCA’s website and calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and asking to speak with your representatives. Not sure who your representatives are? Look them up on NPCA’s website.

Update, October 1, 2013: As of today, the federal government is officially shut down and the consequences outlined in this story are now taking effect. Concerned citizens can take action on NPCA’s website and continue using the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 to speak directly with their representatives’ offices. 

Update, September 27, 2013: Today, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released its contingency plans with detailed information on national parks and Park Service employees that will be impacted in the event of a government shutdown. Figures in this story have been updated accordingly. For more information see the DOI website.

The looming threat of a government shutdown is now a reality. This worst-case scenario has impacts throughout the federal government, including the National Park Service. Here’s what a shutdown means for our 401 national parks.


Question: Now that the federal government has shut down, how many national parks are closed?

Answer: All national park sites are federally managed, therefore, all 401 parks, monuments, historic houses, battlefields, and other units of the park system are closed, including sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and Samoa. Visitor centers, campgrounds, research facilities, museums, and other facilities are shuttered. Educational programs, ranger hikes, and special events are cancelled. Everything from family vacations to school field trips to weddings will be affected.

According to the Department of the Interior (PDF):

Effective immediately [in the event of a government shutdown], the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to close and secure national park facilities and grounds. Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately. … Wherever possible, park roads will be closed and access will be denied. National and regional offices and support centers will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to support excepted personnel. These steps will be enacted as quickly as possible while still ensuring visitor and employee safety as well as the integrity of park resources.


Question: How many employees are affected?

Answer: Based on the Department of the Interior’s new 2013 contingency plan, the shutdown has put nearly 87 percent of Park Service employees—more than 21,000 staff members—indefinitely out of their jobs.


Question: What is the shutdown costing the National Park Service in lost revenue?

Answer: According to an October 1, 2013 press release, the Park Service estimates that it is losing $450,000 per day in lost entrance fees and revenue from park activities such as campground reservations and tours.


Question: How are local businesses being affected?

Answer: According to the Department of the Interior, the last government shutdown in 1995-1996 cost local businesses $14 million per day. Our analysis indicates the actual impact on businesses now could be closer to $30 million per day.


Question: How are local governments being affected?

Answer: The overall economic impact of national park closures is substantial for some regions that rely on national park tourism. For example, during the last government shutdown, Mariposa County, California, lost $10,000 per day in tax revenue because Yosemite was closed and 25 percent of adults in the county were temporarily out of work. Visitation has increased steadily since 1996, meaning the impact on local tax receipts alone could be much higherThe average visitor spending per day in October over the last two years was more than $30 million.


Question: How many visitors are affected?

Answer: A shutdown will affect as many as 750,000 visitors daily across all parks. October is peak season for many tourists who travel to see the changing autumn leaves; family trips to parks like Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate, and Cape Cod will all be impacted. It is also peak wedding season in some parks, and many carefully planned events are now in jeopardy.


Question: What are the economic benefits of keeping parks open?

Answer: Every federal dollar invested in national parks generates ten dollars in economic activity. National parks are powerful economic engines, supporting $31 billion in private-sector spending annually. National parks also mean good jobs around the country. The National Park Service employs approximately 24,000 people, and national parks support 252,000 private-sector jobs.


Question: How long were national parks closed during the last government shutdown?

Answer: The parks were closed for a total of 27 days (Nov. 14-19, 1995 and Dec. 16-Jan. 6, 1996).


Question: Wouldn’t it be good for parks to have a break from visitation?

Answer: Closing our parks is not only depriving visitors of an experience of a lifetime, it is also preventing park staff from monitoring and maintaining natural and historic resources throughout the park system. Staff biologists, ecologists, and other resource professionals work to rid our parks of invasive species and to protect the threatened and endangered species that call our national parks home. Other staff members monitor grounds to prevent vandalism, illegal dumping, and other detrimental activities. While the shutdown allows for the most critical staff to remain, much of this work is being severely hampered by the government shutdown.


Question: What can national park supporters do to help?

Answer: Take action on NPCA’s website and call your representatives in Congress. Tell lawmakers that you care about our national parks and want them open and funded. If you’re planning a visit to a national park in the near future, let them know how a national park shutdown is affecting you.

Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to speak to your representative. Not sure who your representatives are? Look them up on NPCA’s website.

You can see more shutdown-related information on NPCA’s website at


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About the Author

Director of Budget and Appropriations John Garder

John Garder is director of budget and appropriations at NPCA. He is a budget analyst and researcher who advocates for more adequate funding for national parks to diverse audiences, including Congress, the White House, and the Department of the Interior. He came to NPCA after eight years of DC-based conservation advocacy for public interest groups. He has an M.S. in Resource, Policy, and Behavior from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and a B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In his free time, he is an avid outdoor recreationist on America’s public lands.

  • Johnny

    Perhaps the National Park Service is part of the problem. The Federal Government is too big. And NPS is just another bureaucratic agency. Perhaps these lands that are managed by NPS should be sold to the private sector or managed by the private sector so that the US taxpayer can get off the hook for the 20,000 people that NPS employs.

    • Mike

      I am no proponent of huge Govt. But to suggest that something as precious as our National Parks should be “handed over to private corporations” is absurd. These corporations by thier very nature of being for profit industries, will not have the best interests of these parks and its visitors in mind but profits. These parks and forests belong to people of the US and thier management should be soley the purvey of the people of the US. The law enforcement on the parks cant be done by private companies. Land management when in the hands of “vendors” will not focus on the best environmental interests of the park but instead on the bottom line profitability. Weve seen all to well recently with the Alexis Navy Yard Shooting how well we can trust “private corporations” to do whats in the best interests of national assests. These parks belong to the people and it needs to stay that way.

    • Justin

      Part of the problem? NPS is less than 1/13th of 1% of the federal budget. “The Federal Government is too big”? As compared to what? Can you empirically prove how big the government should or shouldn’t be? I think not. Our government is massive and probably is too big and needs massive tuning, but the NPS is not the problem and not the place to start.

      I’m deeply saddened that a segment of the American people have subscribed blindly to a political philosophy so morally bankrupt and short sighted that they’ll advocate for the short term profits of others over the preservation of our national and cultural heritage. The parks belong to all Americans, and by that we mean future generations of Americans as well. The parks are not and should not be the private domain of the privileged few nor a profit center for private interests unaccountable to the American people. You don’t advocate for privatizing the army, navy, air force, or marine corps, do you? The same reasoning should compel you to fight against privatizing our heritage.

      “The parks do not belong to one state or to one section…. The Yosemite, the Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon are national properties in which every citizen has a vested interest; they belong as much to the man of Massachusetts, of Michigan, of Florida, as they do to the people of California, of Wyoming, and of Arizona.”

      “Who will gainsay that the parks contain the highest potentialities of national pride, national contentment, and national health? A visit inspires love of country; begets contentment; engenders pride of possession; contains the antidote for national restlessness…. He is a better citizen with a keener appreciation of the privilege of living here who has toured the national parks.”

      –Stephen Mather

  • Deborah Ferry

    I can just see it now, Johnny. Luxury homes along the rim of the Grand Canyon. Disney-like rides at Gettysburg. Thermal energy plants at Yellowstone. Tickets starting at $500 a person to get in Yosemite. All this is quite possible, or even probable, if we hand our national parks and monuments over to private developers. It’s obvious that you have no understanding or appreciation of the true value of these lands. The national parks and monuments belong to all Americans, both rich and poor. They also comprise a legacy to be left to future generations. And regarding cost, the parks and monuments only consume a pittance of our federal budget. I and millions of others think they are well worth that cost, not to mention the money they often generate for surrounding communities. And by the way, the concept of a national park system came from a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt.

    • Butch

      It can be privately owned with rules of ownership. Just like a mortgage agreement when you by a home. I cant put a mobile home, place a salvage yard, or pump oil on my property with my agreement. Same thing here. It would probably be run with greater efficiency if privately run.

  • Dave

    I have read that congress, executive and judicial branch have all been paid in advance so that they are not affected by the furlough. It’s strange that all the nation park web sites (and locations) are ”shut down” but the shopping carts and donation links all work. I don’t believe that what is occurring is necessary. Again it seems like the elite continue to receive and the masses continue to give. The members of congress continue to transfer the wealth from the people to the corporations and them members of congress are ready to make the people suffer (but not themselves) to prove the validity of this transfer.