You May Not Be Able to Visit Your Favorite National Park Next Week

Sep 24, 2015

By Center for Western Priorities

It’s “Throwback Thursday,” and on social media that usually means revisiting a fun memory. But for many Western communities, this Throwback Thursday is more like a nightmare than a fond memory considering that we are just one week away from another government shutdown. With the end of the fiscal year occurring next Wednesday, Congress is on the verge of a government shutdown—just two years after the last one—because of partisan political squabbles.

If this government shutdown is anything like the two-week long shutdown of 2013, Western communities and the tourists who visit them will suffer the consequences as hundreds of national parks, monuments, and historic sites close their doors and turn away visitors.

When the government shutdown in 2013, Georgia Gustafson and 17 of her friends were flying in from Anchorage, Alaska to raft the Grand Canyon. As the national park closed its gates and barricaded lookout points, Gustafson and her friends were turned away.

“My initial reaction was of course not!” Gustafson said at the time. “In the grand scheme of things any pain that I feel or loss is nothing compared to people in the travel industry the people whose lives here in Flagstaff and here in Arizona depend on the Grand Canyon.”

Gateway communities, which include all towns within 60 miles of a park, are often highly dependent on visitors passing through on their way to see nearby natural wonders. In 2014, park visitors spent $15.7 billion in these towns.

During the shutdown, national parks and other public lands were closed for 16 days. Each day that passed resulted in a total economic loss of $76 million to local communities. After the shutdown, the National Park Service estimated that total visitor spending loss to gateway businesses and local outfitters was approximately $414 million.

This hit close to home for many businesses located near national parks. Lorna Corson, an Arizona Raft Adventure guide said, “I’ll lose my paycheck. Then I will also lose the number of hours I need for profit sharing for the year from the company. That’s another few thousand dollars. So it ends up being a quarter of my annual income that I’m losing.”

In a National Park Service study, the Grand Canyon ranked second amongst the national parks with the greatest visitor spending declines. The top six were:

ParkStatePercent change in visitsVisitor spending loss
Great Smoky Mountains National ParkTennessee-28%-$26.5 million
Grand Canyon National ParkArizona-45%-$17.0 million
Acadia National ParkMaine-67%-$16.2 million
Yellowstone National ParkWyoming/Montana/Idaho-74%-$15.7 million
Grand Teton National ParkWyoming-55%-$14.2 million
Rocky Mountain National ParkColorado-73%-$10.9 million

In addition to national parks closing, Westerners will feel a government shutdown in other ways. Hunting season has begun across the West, and some of the best areas to hunt on public lands like national wildlife refuges will also close. At the height of the fall colors, scenic drives will shut down and overlooks will turn away cars. Many campgrounds on national forest lands will close their gates, including some privately run campgrounds on public lands.

Here are some stories from 2013 highlighting what a shutdown next week could mean for Western communities.