Tour operators have seen minimal impact so far from the lack
of staffing in national parks, but they are very concerned about the long-term
implications of a prolonged government shutdown.
According to news reports, the decision to keep national parks
open without normal staffing has resulted in overflowing trash and toilets. Besides
being unsightly and unsanitary, trash attracts bears, increasing the risk of
bear-human encounters. Even when the trash is gone, bears will return to a
location where they found an easy meal.
In Utah, the state has pulled together funding to maintain
national parks. And the National Park Service said earlier this week that it
would begin dipping into entrance fees to fund upkeep and basic services.
G Adventures said Tuesday that the closure of Joshua Tree
National Park in Southern California has forced it to alter a couple of itineraries that usually include
hikes in the park. Instead, the tours will include a scenic drive around the park
and a visit to the nearby historic Calico Ghost Town, said Kate Croucher,
operations director for North America.
And while she said the other half dozen or so trips the
company is running this month and next in U.S. national parks throughout
Hawaii, California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona have not been yet been affected,
the closure of Joshua Tree "raises our concerns that others may soon follow, if
the U.S. government shutdown persists. That would indeed be a shame and could
lead to major economic losses for the American economy. We continue to hope for
a prompt resolution."
Likewise, U.S. Tour Operators Association CEO Terry Dale said,
"The prospect of a long-term government shutdown is of great concern to
"USTOA's government affairs firm is already on the Hill
explaining any current and impending impact on our members and to the travel
industry at large," Dale said. "USTOA is also fully engaged with the
National Parks Coalition.
Jeremy Palmer, senior vice president for Tauck Land
Journeys, said the shutdown has affected just two of its itineraries in Hawaii
"In Hawaii, we're still able to visit the three
national parks normally included in our itinerary -- Haleakala National Park,
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Pearl Harbor -- although some of the
facilities within the parks are closed," he said. "In Yellowstone, the lodges where we
stay are operated by a concessionaire and are thus still hosting guests. A
couple of visitor centers within Yellowstone are closed, but that's really the
extent of the impacts we're seeing there at the moment."
Croucher said that while the shutdown right now is currently
affecting mostly the parks' maintenance and communications with the public, if
its drags on into March or beyond, it will be another story.
"Excess human waste in the parks could increase the
risk of human-wildlife conflict over the long term, and it could hurt America's
reputation as a place to safely experience true wilderness," she said.
"It's a shame that our natural resources are finding
themselves in the cross hairs of a partisan debate that could negatively affect
tourism for years to come. We hope it is resolved soon."