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How does the government shutdown affect your holiday road trip plans?

Many national parks will remain open, but services will be limited

As the U.S. woke up this Saturday morning to the news of a partial government shutdown, national park employees across the country were being sent home without pay.

If you’re one of the millions of people from across the world planning to visit a national park during the holidays, you might be worried about how those plans will change in light of these recent news. We’re here to try and shed some light on the current situation.

Which parks are being affected?

The shutdown will impact the over 400 areas in the U.S. National Park System in different ways.

Many national parks will stay open—however, only skeleton staff will remain. This means limited services, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities, and road maintenance. Visitor centers and campground check-ins will be closed as well, and no permits will be issued.

For park-specific information, check out the National Parks Service website.

What if you already have a campground reservation?

According to the National Park Service contingency plan, visitors “will be advised that the NPS is not operating campgrounds, including providing check-in/check-out services during a shutdown. There is no guarantee their reserved campsite will be ready and available should they arrive during a government shutdown.”

Should you still visit a national park?

Should you cancel your road trip plans and refrain from visiting a national park during the shutdown? Not necessarily.

However, with limited personnel comes increased risk—and a greater responsibility to treat protected areas with care.

“Park Service staff are trained to handle unique preservation concerns with specialized expertise, and it is extremely challenging for park managers to try to determine how to protect these resources with a very small fraction of their normal staff,” according to Emily Douce, Director of Budget and Appropriations for the Government Affairs team at the National Parks Conservation Association. “National parks are home to wildlife and plants that exist nowhere else, vast unspoiled wilderness areas, and irreplaceable artifacts and cultural sites.”

What can you do to help?

In the spirit of the holidays, consider donating money to the National Park Foundation, which helps preserve over 80 million acres of protected federal land.

And if you do visit a park this week, remember to follow rules and posted signs, stick to marked roads and trails, and always leave it better.