National Park Service turning to user fees, volunteers to keep running during shutdown

World Today

More than 400 parks and monuments across the U.S. are affected by the partial shutdown of the federal government. Some are closed completely while others have only a skeleton staff. Now, the National Park Service will dip into entrance fees to help keep them open.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy tells us volunteers are also stepping-in to help.

No matter what time of year, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is nothing short of spectacular. But these days, more and more visitors here find themselves turning away from the views. On this morning, the fourth most popular park in the U.S. was closed to cars.

“Yeah so when we got up here realizing it was closed we had to make other options,” said one visitor.

“We wanted to go play at Bear Lake so a little disappointed but this isn’t bad,” said another.

You could still hike in but no one was around to plow the snow. That makes driving and accessing most of this terrain difficult and dangerous.

“I’m definitely frustrated,” said Estee Rivera of the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. It’s a non-profit which raises money for the park and runs various programs there. The government shutdown has caused virtually all park staff to be furloughed and put the clamps on all scheduled park activities.

“Oh I think it’s been a huge impact on the visitor experience,” she said of the shutdown.

Rivera’s group has pitched into man the one visitor center that’s stayed open. But restrooms are off-limits for now. The funding freeze has affected national parks across the country. At California’s Joshua Tree National Park, which is open, a group calling itself the Toilet Paper Angels has volunteered to clean bathrooms and pick up trash.

“The community came together and galvanized,” said John Lauretig of the group, Friends of Joshua Tree. “We knew we had to do something with the government shutdown.”

But even with the aid of volunteers, towns like Estes Park, Colorado, are starting to see an impact on their economy. Even in quieter months like January, Estes Park draws lots of visitors, particularly on a beautiful day like this. The main draw is Rocky Mountain National Park which sits just a few kilometers up the road.”

“The longer it goes, people will have less of a reason to come to Estes,” said Charley Dickey, who owns a gift and home decor shop called Rustic Mountain Charm.

He worries about future sales at his store and also about neighbors who work for the park and aren’t collecting paychecks.

“I hiked with a gentleman yesterday and he’s happy to be hiking but he’d rather be making money for his family,” Dickey said.

People whose recreational plans have been scrambled say they’re ready for a resolution.

“I think it’s ridiculous–it’s sad–it’s unfortunate,” said one visitor.

“They sit up there in D.C. and think they know what it’s like to be the American people and they have no clue what it’s like to be an American,” complained another.

Rivera hopes these “closed” signs don’t hurt people’s love of public lands and urges visitors to, “please be good stewards of our national parks while we don’t have the park ranger staff here to protect these important places.”

Places caught up in a debate that’s raging both far in distance, and in setting, from here.