Public Lands Partners, American Hiking Society Call For End To Government Shutdown

Citing lost jobs, hiker safety, and untended trails, two groups with close ties to the out-of-doors are calling on Congress to quickly end the partial government shutdown that has shuttered national parks and some other public lands.

The Association of Partners for Public Lands issued a statement in which Executive Director Dan Puskar said that "(M)any nonprofit partners of America’s public lands and their employees have been devastated by the federal government’s shutdown of their businesses.”

“More than 740 not-for-profit employees of our member organizations have been furloughed, laid off or indefinitely placed on leave without pay," he added. "An additional 260 employees will experience the same consequences if Congress does not act this week.”

APPL estimates its member organizations are experiencing a weekly loss of $3.4 million due to the closure of more than 860 not-for-profit retail stores, field institutes and visitor centers and offices located in 500 national parks, forests, conservation areas and other public lands. As the shutdown continues this week, the impacts on the American people and their public lands grow more significant and long lasting.

"There are organizations like ours across the country that partner with the National Park Service and other land management agencies, and all of us are hurting," said Terry Maddox, executive director of the Great Smoky Mountains Association, a partner of America's most visited national park for 60 years. "Most of us have been forced to lay off staff. Our organizations do nothing but good for the visitor by enhancing their experience and providing the educational materials and services they need. It may take years to come back from this shutdown."

The challenges faced by the furloughed staff of APPL member organizations are very different than those confronting federal employees. The bill passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday to pay all federal employees retroactively does not extend to private sector workers who were laid off due to the government impasse.

Meanwhile, the American Hiking Society said the ongoing shutdown could impact the ranks of 43 million Americans who go hiking and backpacking each year.

"Already, hikers armed with topped-off water bottles, hiking boots, and cameras ready to capture autumn’s splendor are finding themselves shut out of some of America’s most breathtaking and scenic lands," the Society said in a release. "Vacation plans ruined, outings canceled, and families left wondering where to go and what to do; these are some of the impacts that the government shutdown is having on regular Americans who were looking forward to spending some time hiking and leaf-peeping this fall."

Gregory Miller, president of the American Hiking Society, added that not only does closing federal lands hamper vacation plans, "it can create safety problems for hikers. Although we have asked the members of American Hiking Society not to venture onto trails that are closed by the shutdown, we are concerned that safety may be an issue for hikers who might inadvertently enter closed areas.

“We believe that it’s also possible that thru-hikers on long-distance trails such as the Appalachian Trail may be way out in the wilderness, out of touch with the news, and unaware of the shutdown," said Mr. Miller.

Concerned about the shutdown’s effects not only on hikers but also on the recreation economy and upcoming trail maintenance projects, the American Hiking Society is urging Congress to resolve the political stalemate that has created accessibility restrictions on public lands, including national parks, national monuments, and national wildlife refuges, among others.

Every year 6.1 million jobs are supported by an outdoor recreation economy that’s valued at $646 billion, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

"Closing federal public lands not only denies Americans and international tourists access to beautiful scenery and historic landmarks, it hurts businesses that depend on these visitors for income," the Society release said.

“Closure of public lands is also affecting the maintenance of hiking trails,” said Mr. Miller. “Stewardship projects that repair and build trails are often conducted in the shoulder seasons, spring and fall, when the weather is relatively mild. Cancellation of upcoming trail projects that were already planned by rangers and volunteers is an unfortunate consequence of the shutdown.”

Last week, American Hiking Society signed a letter to President Obama, containing an appeal to open the National Park System, citing economic damages to the tourism industry, park resources, and the livelihoods of the 21,000 employees who are now furloughed without pay until further notice. The letter was also signed by 11 other organizations that are involved with outdoor recreation and stewardship.