Federal Shutdown: What it Means for Hikers, Campers, Volunteers
Road closed signs will be a familiar sight to hikers wanting to access national parks during the government shutdown.
Updated: Oct. 3, 2013.
Due to the impasse in Congress, the federal government shut down at midnight last night. Aside from the many impacts to federal employees and programs, the shutdown also impacts hikers, campers and potentially trail volunteers.
What effects the shutdown will have are still being determined, and we'll continue to update this blog as we learn more. (Agencies' “close down procedure” asks that managers and supervisors arrange for securing their offices, canceling meetings and events and communicating with their partners, the public and their employees about what it means.)
Here's what we know now:
National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges are closed and gated
The National Park Service has been very clear about the impacts to its 401 sites around the country. They are closed. You can read its contingency plan here.
- All 401 National Park Service sites are closed across the country. This includes Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park, as well as smaller units in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. National Wildlife Refuges will also be closed.
- Roads that go through or around National Parks will remain open—SR 20 across North Cascades National Park and SR 410 around Mount Rainier—but roads that provide access into the park will be marked as closed or gated. For instance, there is no access to Mount Rainier's Paradise, Olympic's Hurricane Ridge or Hoh Rainforest or Cascade Pass in North Cascade National Park. For mountain pass conditions, check with Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT). All trails and activities along these roads through the National Parks are curtailed.
- All visitor centers and facilities are closed. People already in campgrounds or overnight facilities were given 48 hours to leave.
- All permits for backcountry camping and climbing are rescinded. No new permits are being issued. Update 10/2: The contingency plan also states that day use visitors—and that would include hikers—would be asked to leave the park. As such, WTA does not recommend hiking in National Parks during the shutdown. The Pacific Crest Trail Association is also advising the same for PCT thru-hikers.
- All National Park Service websites have been taken offline, and staff has stopped posting to their social media streams.
- The majority of National Parks employees have been furloughed. In the North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 118 employees are on furlough because of the shutdown and approximately 40 concessions employees are similarly affected. (Nationwide the shutdown has furloughed more than 20,000 National Park Service employees.)
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
- Update 10/1: At the Mount St. Helen's Monument, the Johnston Ridge Observatory and Science and Learning Center at Coldwater are closed during the lapse in federal government funding. According to Mount St. Helens Institute (a private, non-profit organization), Climber’s Bivouac, the climbing route and all hiking trails will remain open, though bathroom facilities at all parking lots and trailheads will be locked.
National Forest trails not closed to hikers, but camping, facilities are closed
The effects to hikers in Washington's National Forests are less clear than in the parks. Here's what we do know, though these are subject to change and will be updated on this blog as we learn more. You can access the U.S. Forest Service Contingency Plan here.
- Forest Service visitor centers and offices are closed.
- Trailheads and trails in National Forests are not closed, but hikers could encounter gates. Trailhead facilities like toilets and garbage will not be serviced.
- Update 10/3: The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest has asked WTA not to sell Northwest Forest Passes. But as a precaution, continue to hang your Northwest Forest Pass at trailheads. You probably don't need it, but Law Enforcement Officers will still be working, and many of the trailheads are patrolled by county sheriffs.
- Campgrounds operated by the US Forest Service will be closed within two days, although some campgrounds operated by concessionaires could remain open.
- Road projects may be halted, and some are going forward on a case-by-case basis.
- The U.S. Forest Service and recreation.gov websites have been taken offline and staff are no longer updating or posting to social media channels.
- Update 10/3: Got an Enchantment permit? Here's what one hiker told us was posted as a note on the door of the Wenatchee Ranger Station: "If you have a printed permit, please enjoy your trip. If you have not printed your permit yet, it is not possible to do so; however, you may print your confirmation letter that was emailed to you when your application for a permit was granted, and take that with you on your hike. If you do not have a NW Forest Pass, leave a copy of your confirmation on the dashboard of your car." Additional Hiker info: See the comments below from schifferj for more info about snow conditions and passes.
- The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest's Sustainable Roads public engagement meeting in Everett on October 9 has been cancelled.
WTA trail work parties on federal land cancelled
Update 10/2: WTA has cancelled work parties on National Forest land for the first weekend in October. We will be able to resume on federal land work parties when government operations resume. Where possible, we will redirect these work parties to state or county properties. And in a fit of optimism, we will keep our October 11-13 work parties for National Forest land on the schedule.
NOAA shuts down, but you can still get weather updates
If you rely on on the National Weather Service to assess conditions before you head out hiking, you'll still be able to get that information during the shutdown. NOAA.gov and most associated websites are unavailable, but because the weather.gov site provides information "necessary to protect life and property, it will be updated and maintained during the Federal Government shutdown."
The silver lining: state and local lands are open
Hike and camp on state and local lands. Washington State Parks and Fish & Wildlife lands remain open for hikers and recreation users and people should bring their Discover Pass to hang in their windows at these sites. County lands remain open as well, and there are many great places to hike close by urban centers.
Volunteer on city, county and state trails. WTA's trail work on these lands will also go forward. We have work parties this weekend scheduled for Taylor Mountain in King County, Big Rock in Spokane County and Dosewallips State Park on the Olympic Peninsula. You can still sign up for these work parties and others.
Share your experience
Have you already been impacted by the shutdown on national public lands? Been turned away from a National Park or asked to leave a campground? Share your story with us in the comments below?