Hidden costs to outdoor recreation during the government shutdown

The longest government shutdown in our country’s history was expensive in more ways than one. The outdoor recreation economy, which made up 2.2% of total GDP in 2016, was one of the losers. According to an article written on January 4 (just 14 days into the shutdown), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) estimated that the partial shutdown had already cost the National Parks Service (NPS) at least $5 million in entrance fees.

Although the NPS left some areas open, they operated with limitations and did not collect entrance fees. Fortunately, many outdoor communities stepped up to volunteer in garbage pick up and maintenance work to protect these spaces while they were vulnerable. Still, many areas had to close part of the way through the shutdown, like Joshua Tree, where the local volunteer effort was unable to keep vandalism and damage to park resources at bay without the usual workforce.

Like any spending decision, this one had a multiplier effect. On average, tourists fund communities near national parks to the tune of $20 million in January. But during the shutdown, these towns suffered under low visitation and frequent cancellations, hurting local business sales and forcing small companies like guiding operations and climbing schools into temporary closures.

An REI Journal article provides one snapshot of this happening close to home: in Ashford, WA, a small community just outside of Mount Rainier NP. Most Rainier recreation visitors travel through Ashford on their way to the park gates, so tourism is an integral segment of Ashford’s economy. Local businesses like winter sports stores, restaurants, cafes, and hotels are all fueled by the tourist recreation industry, with an average of 28,500 visitors traveling through the town towards Rainier each January. An owner of a popular restaurant was forced to close three days a week, and hotels in Ashford are suffering cancellations as avalanche trainings are re-routed to other parks. Similar stories in gateway communities are happening across the country, as local residents feel what the Ashford restaurant owner calls “the revenue pinch” of the shutdown.

Seems like we should be saving studying for the work week so we can support our public lands and parks on the weekends. Here’s a great excuse to hike, climb, ski, and kayak this February and support local businesses. Make sure to leave no trace!

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