A shutdown of the federal government, while shuttering most of the National Park System, might not save much money, as local economies would be stung and the National Park Service still would have to maintain some presence in the parks.
According to David Barna, the Park Service's chief of communications in Washington, average daily visitation to parks throughout the system reaches about 805,000 in April. Those visitors, in turn, spend about $32 million in the parks and surrounding communities, he added.
What Mr. Barna couldn't say, though, was how much the Park Service spends to keep "essential" personnel on the job during a shutdown. "We are not speculating on the costs or impacts of a possible closure," he said.
"I think that a good point to make on this kind of silliness is that although the differences over budget matters are what drive such closures, you could make a point that the expense of keeping the Canyon closed was nearly the same as keeping it open," he said. "Rangers had to man every single trailhead, including places like Lee's Ferry, to ensure that visitors did not enter the Canyon. This meant 24-hour coverage, thus large overtime costs.
"If a visitor entered the closed Grand Canyon and got into trouble, of course we would have to get them out. Not to do so would almost certainly result in negligence lawsuits, etc.," Mr. Cummins added. "Then, of course, the closure imposed huge inconvenience and disappointment to the best visitors - the ones who wanted to experience what Grand Canyon is really about."
Indeed, keeping visitors out of parks during a closer won't always be easy. Some parks, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Arches, and Acadia, have relatively few entrances that can be gated, but there are others, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Newfound Gap Road is a state highway that can't be closed by the Park Service.
The road would remain open, noted Great Smokies spokesman Bob Miller, but there would be no services, such as the restroom facilities at either end. Additionally, staff would use cones to indicate drives to overlooks and parking for trailheads are closed, he said.
“People could drive through, but there pretty much wouldn’t be any place to stop," said Mr. Miller said Friday morning.
Of course, he added that while law enforcement personnel will be on the job, they can't be everywhere at all times and some people might simply choose to move the cones and park their cars for a hike or look just the same.
“We would have some amount of enforcement, but people are free to break the
law anytime they please. We know that that will happen,
realistically," he said.
At the same time, if storms knock trees across roads or cause rock or mud slides that close roads, those would not be cleaned up until the government was back in business, said the spokesman.
But apparently not all parks will be entirely shutdown. At Gettysburg National Military Park, guided tours of the battlefield run by contracted businesses and the visitors center and museum, which are run by the non-profit Gettysburg Foundation, reportedly would stay open.