Five lessons from the government shutdown about national parks

For now the threat of another government shutdown has ended (even as legal showdown over an emergency wall looms). Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are breathing a sigh of relief — including 16,000 National Park Service employees, most of whom were told to stay home while the parks remained open but understaffed during the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The shutdown dealt a big blow to national parks and the people and communities whose livelihoods depend on them. But the outcry over the damage done — and the work of the countless volunteers who stepped in to help while the government was shuttered — also sends a clear message to elected officials: Our national parks really matter.

Along with a big mess to clean up on public lands across the country, the 35-day shutdown leaves behind some important takeaways.

The National Park Service must protect parks forever and make them accessible to visitors — two sometimes-conflicting goals whose achievement requires constant push-and-pull.

Roads went unplowed, trash cans overflowed, scientific studies lapsed, and visitors were turned away or left to fend for themselves. Reports of vandalism show how irresponsible it was to keep the parks open while the experts who care for them were out of work.

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