When the partial shutdown of the federal government began on Oct. 1, all brick-and-mortar facilities within the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area were closed — the visitors centers at Bandy Creek and Stearns, the campgrounds, the restroom facilities, and the privately-operated concessionaire facilities within the park’s boundaries, such as Charit Creek Hostel and Station Camp Horse Camp.
In the first few days after the shutdown, the physical facilities were simply closed, while the remainder of the park remained unaffected by the closure. For example, at the popular East Rim Overlook off S.R. 297 just inside the park’s east boundary, the restroom facility at the trailhead was locked and a sign placed informing visitors that the lack of funding was responsible for the closure. However, the road to the trailhead remained open, and there was no sign on the trailhead bulletin board announcing that the overlook itself was affected.
Several days later, however, barricades were placed at the entrance to East Rim Road and several other high-traffic areas of the park, such as the Leatherwood Ford river access area. Lesser-visited areas of the 125,000-acre park, meanwhile, remained open and without signage.
Last week, a number of additional trailheads were marked as closed and additional barriers were placed. And, by the weekend, barricades had been placed across Station Camp Road — blocking tens of thousands of acres of popular equine usage area during the park’s primary horseback riding season.
As the government shutdown has dragged on, efforts to stop visitors from visiting America’s public places that are under the federal government’s very large umbrella have been maximized.
While Republicans and Democrats in Washington have relentlessly attempted to place blame on one another, one clear loser in the shutdown fiasco has been the National Park Service. The Big South Fork NRRA isn’t the only national park to essentially be roped off from the public. The Great Smoky Mountains and others have been similarly affected . . . even as many national forests (the Daniel Boone National Forest in southern Kentucky withstanding) have been largely without impact.
The reasons for most of the closures within America’s national parks are obvious. With most staff members furloughed, there is no way visitors centers and campgrounds can be open, because there is no one to staff them. Likewise, with no maintenance personnel to clean restroom facilities, it’s fairly obvious why those buildings must be closed.
But closing unstaffed parts of our parks — such as roads and trails — is a slap in the face to citizens and taxpayers.
As the shutdown lingers, American taxpayers deserve to know who ordered unstaffed areas of the Big South Fork — which were not barricaded during the last government shutdown in 1995 — and other national parks to be closed. Did the order come from the regional offices of the National Park Service? From higher up?
It is a question that deserves to be asked. It is a question that deserves an answer.