Yellowstone National Park

Government shutdown could cause Yellowstone closure

A likely U.S. government shutdown could lead to a Yellowstone closure as soon as Monday, but the exact impact has still to be determined, according to Department of the Interior officials.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have stalemated on a plan to keep the government funded for 30 days, leading to the potential government shutdown on 12:01 a.m. Sunday. We’re not going to wade into the specifics of the reasons behind the stalemate; we’d check out a wide variety of media resources covering the stalemate in depth, including the Washington Post and AP.

Today the Biden Administration released a press release detailing the potential consequences of a Sunday shutdown across America’s National Parks, which would cover Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Glacier. It’s pretty stark:

However, in the event of a lapse in annual government appropriations, National Park Service (NPS) sites will be closed. This means that the majority of national parks will be closed completely to public access. Areas that, by their nature, are physically accessible to the public will face significantly reduced visitor services.

At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed. Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety.

Visitors should expect that many of the services and facilities they depend on at national parks will be closed or largely unavailable during a shutdown.

Due to the dramatic differences in accessibility, operations, size, visitation, location and infrastructure represented in NPS sites, the number of employees on site will vary. As a general rule, if a facility or area is locked, secured or otherwise inaccessible during non-business hours (buildings, gated parking lots, bathrooms, etc.), or is closed regularly for safety or resource protection, it will be locked or secured for the duration of the lapse in appropriations. Parks will not provide regular road or trail condition updates. As a part of their orderly shutdown activities, park staff will post signs as appropriate to notify visitors that services, maintenance or other non-emergency management activities will not be conducted.

At parks with areas that are physically accessible to the public – meaning that due to their physical characteristics it is impossible or impractical to restrict public access, including park roads, lookouts, trails, campgrounds, and open-air memorials – these areas will remain physically accessible to the public. This would include the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, D.C. However, staffing levels and services including restroom and sanitation maintenance, trash collection, road maintenance, campground operations, and emergency operations will vary and are not guaranteed.

Concessions located in areas that are accessible to the public may continue to operate during a lapse in appropriations if no NPS resources are required to support concession operations beyond excepted services and critical health, safety and protection services.

Subject to the approval of the NPS Director, parks may enter into non-reimbursable arrangements with state, local or Tribal governments, cooperating associations, and/or other third parties for donations to fund the full operation of an individual park site or of specified services that clearly benefit the park and public by providing enhanced visitor health, protection and safety. The NPS is not authorized to reimburse third parties that provide donations for such services.

It is possible that Montana and Wyoming, or concessionaires like Xanterra, could step up to fund some basic functions allowing the gates to stay open. Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, but the entry gates are located in both Montana and Wyoming.

We won’t see a total shutdown: the Interior Department says that some basic functions within the Parks would continue, including:

  • Law enforcement and emergency response
  • Border and coastal protection and surveillance
  • Fire suppression for active fires or monitoring areas currently under a fire watch
  • Protection of federal lands, buildings, waterways, equipment, and other property within the National Park System, including research property
  • Activities that ensure production of power and maintenance of the power distribution system

One factor here to consider when judging the impact: Many services, restaurants and accommodations in Yellowstone are already closed or closing this weekend. (Click here to see what’s open and what’s closing at Yellowstone.) Weather is also impacting the area: The Beartooth Highway (US-212) between Long Lake barricade, near Top of the World Store, and the Montana/Wyoming state line will close on Saturday, Sept. 30 at 3 p.m. due to forecasted winter weather conditions.

The last time we saw a Yellowstone closure as a result of a government shutdown was in 2018 under the Trump Administration.

RELATED STORIES: No Grinch Here: Yellowstone Remains Open During Government Shutdown; Yellowstone National Park Reopens After Government Shutdown; Yellowstone Open on Limited Basis During Government Shutdown; Yellowstone National Park Reopens After Government Shutdown Ends

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