Seven million potential visitors have been blocked from entering national parks in the first 10 days of the partial federal government shutdown at a cost of $750 million to the economy, according to a report by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
In a year that’s seen stagnating park budgets cut even further by the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, park advocates view the shutdown as one more jab against an agency that draws more than $30 billion in spending across the country every year.
According to the report, Yellowstone National Park and its gateway communities have lost 98,630 visitors in the first 10 days of the shutdown and seen the potential for $9,452,054 in visitor spending vanish from federal coffers and area businesses.
Yosemite National Park and its gateway communities would have seen more than $10 million and 106,849 visitors pass through the park and its surrounding towns in the past 10 days, the report says.
With its resplendent fall October foliage, the biggest loser in the shutdown is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with an estimated loss of more than $23 million in spending by 257,534 visitors.
October isn’t a peak month for travelers in Wyoming’s gateway communities, but the effect of the past 10 days on the community in Yellowstone’s East Entrance has been significant, said Scott Baylo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce.
Baylo said the shutdown will hurt the October sales and lodging tax revenues for Park County.
Tourists and small business owners in Wyoming were optimistic that Democrats and Republicans could quickly hash out a deal that would reopen the parks when lawmakers chose to send the nation into shutdown mode last week.
But few signs of a bipartisan agreement have emerged.
“There was hopefulness last week,” Baylo said. “But that’s gone from frustration to anger.”
The National Park Service has found itself in unfamiliar territory in the past week. Headlines about armed park rangers booting people off of public lands and ruined vacations have put a harsh spotlight on one of the most winsome of government agencies.
The mood inside the parks is the polar opposite of four years ago, said Joan Anzelmo, spokeswoman for the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
Ken Burns had just released his latest documentary: “National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”
“Members of Congress were toasting the parks back then,” Anzelmo said. “Now they are using the parks as a pawn in their game.”
At a time when park rangers have been referred to as gestapo by visitors who were forced to leave Yellowstone, Anzelmo wanted to remind the nation that essential park employees still on the job have been participating in search and rescue operations, flood repairs and other maintenance work while taking abuse from the public.
“This is not the fault of any federal agency,” she said. “It’s the fault of Congress.”
The House passed a bill last week that would reopen the parks amid a shutdown as long as certain parts of the Affordable Care Act were dismantled. The bill has received little traction in the Senate. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., called to have the bill heard on the floor, but the Senate majority blocked the motion.