We’re a month into the government shutdown, and many working Americans, small businesses, and local communities are starting to feel the the economic strain from a lack of crucial government services. Contrary to popular belief, Washington, DC isn’t the only city affected – rural communities across the country are feeling the pressure, particularly those that rely on visitors to federal lands that are suffering from a neglected Parks Service.
Instead of responding to this crisis, former oil lobbyist and acting Interior secretary David Bernhardt recalled federal employees to resume work supporting offshore drilling operations (notably absent from the recall: federal employees who work on offshore wind energy or other renewable energy sources). By prioritizing environment-destroying drilling that funnels millions of dollars to oil executives, the Trump administration is not only actively making the United States a dirtier, more polluted place, it is also revealing that its priorities lie with wealthy executives and donors rather than the rural communities in which so many of Trump’s supporters live.
An average January brings around 500,000 visitors and $20 million dollars to the gateway towns that surround the entrances to National Parks. But thanks to the shutdown, fewer visitors mean less business.
In Ashford, a small town near Mount Rainier National Park, the most popular restaurant now stays closed three days a week, and mountaineering guides are relocating to other mountain parks. In Terlingua, near Big Bend National Park, thanks to some campground closures they estimate a loss of $35,000 a week in direct income, an amount that, while relatively modest, has powerful ripple effects throughout such a small community. And in Port Angeles, near Olympic National Park, unplowed roads have left the local ski resort closed during one of their busiest seasons.
Seeking to avoid the public outcry that followed the 2013 shutdown, Interior issued a policy in late 2018 to keep public lands partially open during a lapse in federal funding. Now 16,000 park employees are still furloughed and parks are plagued with overflowing trash cans and restrooms, vandalism, and unplowed roads. Before the shutdown the parks already had over $11 billion in maintenance backlogs. Now, with the end of the shutdown nowhere in sight and damages only increasing, these monuments to America’s natural beauty are more at risk than ever. The longer the parks stay open, the longer they will have to stay closed for future repairs, and the more the communities that rely on these parks suffer. Rather than aiding vulnerable gateway communities, this government has decided to ensure that the businesses of Trump’s wealthy friends and donors continue unimpeded.
National Parks and the gateway communities that rely on them face years of physical and economical damage from this shutdown, while the Trump administration has made sure to cushion the impact on moneyed interests. It’s no surprise that this administration uses government positions to enrich Trump’s donors and friends, but to do so during a time when many working Americans are suffering from a fabricated political crisis is a mockery of public service.