Protect Our Parks, Protect Our People

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Usually during a government shutdown, our National Parks are closed but not this time. As a traveler with severe wanderlust, I’m excited because I can still explore my favorite places, but as a hiker and firm believer in LNT (Leave No Trace), I’m mortified. During a government shutdown, the parks are severely understaffed. Park Rangers serve many purposes but two of their biggest are supervising visitors to ensure their safety and protection of the park. Without sufficient staffing, there’s no one to protect the parks from us, or more importantly, protect us from ourselves.

I remember talking to my boyfriend about this about a year ago. We were worried our vacation was going to be ruined due to a government shutdown, and he said he never understood why the parks get shutdown since it’s just nature and people should be able to hike and explore like they would normally, and during that three-day shutdown, I agreed. However, three days and three weeks are very different. Disney World may be able to afford to make sure there is a trash can every ten feet, but the parks are not set up that way. Parks rely a lot on the honor system already. If you bring the granola bar up the mountain, you bring the wrapper back down. As a failsafe in our most treasured landmarks, our Park Rangers are there to maintain the park. Simply by being there, people are more likely to clean up after themselves and vandalism is far less likely. It’s hard to cut down a Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree without being noticed when the Rangers are actually around to supervise.

Additionally, these landmarks drum up a lot of tourism and inexperienced visitors. This is very scary. Many of our parks are dangerous during the Summer, let alone the Winter! Tourists often times don’t understand how challenging some hikes can be or may not bring the proper amount of water. These mistakes can be fatal! Usually Park Rangers are there to provider some guidance to those that need it, or in the worst case scenario, respond as quickly as possible to reports of injuries. With the parks open and limited staffing, people will take unnecessary risks.

Three days after the shutdown, a 14-year-old girl died in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. On Christmas Day, in Yosemite National Park, a man died after suffering a head injury, and on December 27th, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a woman was killed by a falling tree. Additionally, the death in Yosemite was not reported until January 4th of 2019 due to the shutdown. While shutting down National Parks will hurt local tourism, I believe the safety of our people is worth the cost. Of course ideally, the government would just start working again.