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Fait Accompli — Access to National Parks During Government Shutdown

By January 20, 2018No Comments

Story by Jerry Ginsberg

Ed. Note:  At midnight on Friday, January 19, the United States federal government entered a partial shut down.  We do not know how long this will last.  Our regular columnist and expert on National Parks, Jerry Ginsberg, provides some ideas on how one may gain access to the parks during this time.


With the partial shutdown of the federal government, our ability as photographers to access virtually all federal lands will be impacted for as long as this situation persists. Allow me to lay out some of the ways in which such an event can impact our ability to enter various federal units.
At the outset, please know that any and all political issues, views and debates are well beyond both the mission of NANPA and certainly the scope of this space. I wish only to address our abilities to photograph within these lands.

That said, if we harken back to the wisdom of Will Rogers, we may perhaps realize how little has changed, even after almost a century. Hey, I’m just sayin’.

Once a federal government shutdown occurs, it will certainly affect all 400+ units of the National Park Service as well as those of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forest Service (USFS / USDA), etc.

Based upon the government procedures followed during my previous such experiences, it is likely that the vehicle entrances to these lands will be blocked with entry by civilian vehicles prohibited. That will not, however, prevent us from simply walking in. While this will put the most iconic areas of most national parks out of reach due to distances, some opportunities will still exist. During similar such government shutdowns over the last several decades, I have parked along the roads outside such places as Muir Woods and the Gettysburg Battlefield and just put one foot in front of the other.

Similar short distances are present along the edges of Redwood, Hot Springs, Congaree, Biscayne and Virgin Islands National Parks. Absent first hand shutdown experience, but knowing the roads, I would expect that some access might also be available through Olympic, North Cascades, Capitol Reef and perhaps even Death Valley and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. These large tracts have federal and state highways running right through them. It seems to me that authorities would be hard pressed to close those busy thoroughfares. On the other hand, you can expect parking areas to be closed and parking on these roads to be strictly prohibited.

Is all of this a bit tentative and perhaps even confused?  You bet!

Looks like Will Rogers hit the nail right on the head.