How The Shutdown Will Impact National Parks

Jan 20, 2018
Originally published on January 20, 2018 7:24 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration is looking to avoid one of the most public displays of the ongoing federal government shutdown - the closings of the country's national parks. During the last shutdown in 2013, those closures gated off national parks, recreation areas and monuments. So this time, most of those areas are being directed to stay open. There just won't be anybody there to staff them. NPR's Nathan Rott is at one of those areas - Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Southern California - and he is with us now. Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey.

MARTIN: So the park here is open. Does it seem like business as usual?

ROTT: (Laughter) You know, in some ways, yes. The trails, roads, I mean, even the bathrooms here are still open, but the visitors center just across from where I'm standing is definitely not. When I first got here, a park service employee was locking up the doors, hanging signs on them that explained the situation to people that visitors are welcome to be on the trails but that they have to do so at their own risk.

Law enforcement and park rangers that are deemed essential to the Park Service are still working, but they've been directed to take a reactive approach as opposed to a proactive one. So that may not seem like a big, you know, deal in a place like sunny Southern California, where I am. But in Badlands National Park in South Dakota, for example, or some of the more northern parks where there could be weather concerns, it could be a dicey situation for people.

MARTIN: Well, what reaction are you hearing from people when they see those signs?

ROTT: Surprise is the big one. Some of the folks I've talked to, they didn't even know that there was a government shutdown. Others did, but they didn't really think it was going to have much of an effect here and were pretty bummed to find out. The next biggest reaction, I would say, is definitely disappointment. There was disappointment from a group of Boy Scouts who came here. And it was kind of their way to end their two-day camping trip and they couldn't do that.

I saw a 9-year-old girl who was excited to see the animal displays here - couldn't do it. And from the adults I've talked to, the disappointment is more about the current state of our politics, you know, people mentioning the lack of compromise, all the politicking that's going on. One guy I talked to, Ryan Laughlin, said it was - just seemed all really petty. Let's hear a little cut of him now.

RYAN LAUGHLIN: Parties don't want to agree or don't want to look like they agree. And, you know, the end result is people end up getting furloughed. They can't get paid. And parks get closed down probably eventually. And we'll see what ends up happening there, but it just feels kind of petty.

MARTIN: You know, he raised something I wanted to mention to you anyway, which is that people don't get paid. Are the park rangers - have you had a chance to have any sense of how they feel about all of this?

ROTT: You know, a bit. I spent the morning calling some of the park service employees that I've talked to over the years to get their take for other stories and everything. And none of them wanted to go on the record, obviously, because they don't want to lose their jobs. But there's absolutely a frustration there. And the one that really stuck with me is this sense that, by keeping the parks open, the Department of Interior is basically saying that we can do this whole national park thing without you guys. And in reality, they don't think that's going to work.

One of the guys I talked to said, you know, yeah, it's great that the bathrooms are open now, but what are people going to do in a few days when nobody's cleaned them? Are people still going to go into them? Are people really going to carry their own garbage out when the dumps get filled? Just little things like that that they don't think are going to work as well as the government is leading on right now.

MARTIN: We have a couple of seconds left. So do you have any sense of how this is playing out in other places?

ROTT: Yeah. So there's some places that are just not open at all. The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, were turning people away earlier, for example. The same is true in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In Joshua Tree, I've actually got a buddy there. And I talked to him a little earlier today. And kind of an interesting side note - there's a lot of international visitors at Joshua Tree, it being one of the flagship, you know, parks of the National Park Service. And he said it was causing a ton of confusion for them, people who were going up, reading the signs saying, hey, you know, yes, the trails are open, but you have to do so at your own risk. The visitor centers are closed. And so he and his girlfriend were actually having to be almost like ambassadors trying to explain what that means and the sort of political dynamic that we're living in right now.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Nathan Rott at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Nate, thanks so much.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.