US government shutdown to close iconic national parks

By Paul HANDLEY

US national parks, from the iconic Yosemite and Yellowstone in the west to Florida’s Everglades swamp, will close to the public from Sunday in the increasingly likely event of a federal government shutdown.

Barring any last-minute deal in Congress, visitors to most of the national parks and hundreds of other popular sites will meet with padlocked gates from midnight Saturday due to a freeze in federal funding, the Department of the Interior said early Friday.

“In the event of a lapse in annual government appropriations … the majority of national parks will be closed completely to public access,” it said.

Only certain areas that are generally accessible to people, like the National Mall in the center of Washington and Gateway National Park in San Francisco, will be accessible.

“At national park service units across the country gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed,” a senior Interior official told reporters, insisting on anonymity.

The National Park Service operates 63 official national parks and hundreds more designated historical sites, seashores and monuments, which last year drew more than 300 million visitors.

Many communities are economically dependent on visitors to them.

Joe Minutolo, owner of Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop just outside Acadia National Park in Maine, said they depend on tourists renting bikes to ride in the popular park.

He told AFP that at the moment tourists are confused over whether they will be able to visit, given the 11th hour negotiations in Congress to reach a budget deal.

“If the shutdown drags on it will definitely have an effect on our business,” he told AFP.

“That’s why people come here, to enjoy Acadia,” he said.

“I wish these people in Congress would get their act together.”

In some parks people will still be able to access hiking and bike trails because it is impossible to fully restrict access, given their huge sizes and unfenced borders, the Interior said.

In some areas in the past, according to the official, state authorities have helped provide funding to keep parks operating.

The official blamed hardline Republicans in Congress for refusing to compromise on their budget demands, forcing the shutdown.

A shutdown “would damage our community, our economy, our national security and our public lands,” the official said.

“Our national parks reflect who we are as a country, and they unite us in our common values to not only enjoy their beauty, but also to preserve them for all Americans and future generations to enjoy,” the official said.

Agence France-Presse

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