The impacts of the 35-day government shutdown on our national parks were troubling. From illegal off-roading in fragile wilderness areas to looting of Civil War relics from national battlefields and illegal cutting of the famed Joshua Trees, we’ve seen what can happen to our national parks when they are left open with only skeleton crews. These examples of resource damage are only part of the problem, however. National parks across the country, including Acadia, are facing longer term effects of the shutdown, such as delays in the hiring of seasonal staff, impediments to planning and contracting, and potential research gaps in important scientific work.
Typically at Acadia, hiring of the nearly 150 seasonal staff takes place during the winter months in preparation of the park’s full reopening in April. It takes an average three months to hire seasonal law enforcement rangers because of background checks, drug testing, and medical clearance requirements. This year because of the shutdown, Acadia will have to compete with other national parks in New England for the attention of regional Human Resources staff who will be bombarded with work requests.
Delayed seasonal hiring will have a ripple effect at Acadia and in national parks across the country, negatively impacting visitors and gateway communities like Bar Harbor. The seasonal workforce is the heart of Acadia’s front lines, and without them, parks will be stretched to fully open campgrounds, flush water systems, clear park roads, welcome school groups, complete general spring maintenance, and staff the visitor centers.
The shutdown delayed or halted important park planning and research projects at Acadia and other national parks. For instance, final approval of Acadia’s transportation plan has been postponed, which will delay the ability to hire consultants who will work to advise the park on how to best implement reservation systems and transportation contracts. Data collection at the park was also stopped for a month, undermining important long-term monitoring of Acadia’s natural and cultural resources, including air quality and threatened bat species. This creates critical data gaps that can never be recovered.
The work of university researchers has also been hindered as they have not been able to apply for data collection permits or upload reports of their findings to National Park Service databases.
The impact of this shutdown will be felt in our parks for months and possibly years after. On an average day in January, 425,000 people visit parks across the country and spend $20 million in nearby communities. Our local communities in Maine fared better than most because this shutdown happened in January rather than the height of the visitor season.
Even before the shutdown, however, the National Park Service has been operating with an estimated 11 percent fewer staff while at the same time struggling to accommodate a 19 percent increase in visitation. Acadia continues to rank as one of the most visited national park sites in the system. This shutdown only made it more difficult for the National Park Service to properly operate parks and address its multibillion-dollar maintenance needs for the long-term, including nearly $60 million in deferred maintenance projects at Acadia.
We implore decision makers including Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Jared Golden to work to find a long-term funding solution to avoid another shutdown disaster and to stand up for the health or our parks, our local economies that depend from them, and the millions of people that visit them each year.
Congress thankfully avoided a second shutdown by funding the government through the end of September. We implore decision makers including Collins, King, Pingree and Golden to work to work to find a long-term funding solution to avoid another avoid future shutdown disasters and to stand up for the health or our parks, our local economies that depend from them, and the millions of people that visit them each year.
Cortney Worrall is Senior Regional Director for the Northeast Region of the National Parks Conservation Association. Stephanie Clement is Conservation Director for Friends of Acadia.