Free Minds & Free Markets

Stop Pretending the Smithsonian, National Park Closures Are a Crisis

Yes, the government shutdown is to blame. No, it's not that big of a deal.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia Commons"In shutdown, national parks transform into Wild West—heavily populated and barely supervised," blares a headline from The Washington Post. "It's a free-for-all: shutdown brings turmoil to beloved US national parks," says The Guardian. "National parks getting trashed during government shutdown," writes HuffPost. The Associated Press says: "Garbage, feces take toll on national parks amid shutdown." And lest we forget about our beloved museums, the Post sighs, "The Smithsonian and the National Gallery held on as long as they could. They're closing."

Sounds like a crisis! But at most it's an unfortunate nuisance.

Some background: Parts of the federal government have been shut down since December 21 over President Donald Trump's demands for border wall money. While Trump has already approved about $931 billion of the proposed $1.2 trillion in spending for the fiscal year, funding has lapsed for agencies that rely on the rest. This didn't automatically mean closures. Thanks to a contingency plan adopted by the National Park Service earlier this year, many national parks remained open for a time, just without the park rangers, maintenance workers, and other staff who've been furloughed by the shutdown.

But without those workers, trash has piled up and restrooms have gradually gotten dirtier. As a result, officials have opted to close down Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Joshua Tree National Parks in California, as well as parts of Yosemite.

In D.C., meanwhile, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art remained open using leftover funds that had been previously allocated. That money has since run out, and the Smithsonian announced today that its museums and the National Zoo would be closing. The National Gallery notes at the top of its website that its status after today "is yet to be determined."

It's not hard to understand why some people are making a fuss over these closings. This is, after all, one of the more visible effects of the shutdown. That's because the federal services and employees deemed "essential"—the parts of the government authorized to shoot you, for instance—are still functioning. National parks and the various historical and artistic institutions run by the federal government are classified as "non-essential," and rightfully so. Without getting into whether these institutions should be privatized (though there's a good case for that), their current closures largely affect people's leisure activities and nothing more.

The closures are definitely unfortunate for tourists who planned trips around these parks and/or museums. But even then, there are plenty of privately run institutions that aren't affected by the government shutdown at all. In D.C. alone, there's the Phillips Collection, the National Building Museum, and the Newseum. If you're sad the National Zoo's Panda Cam is turned off, you can head to YouTube for your fix. Plus, while California may have more national parks than any other state, it also has a sprawling state park system.

Even the supposed "trashing" of the parks isn't cause for too much concern. The worry largely stems from issues involving litter, dirty bathrooms, and people relieving themselves in the wrong places. Disgusting problems, for sure, but ones that are not hard to remedy once furloughed employees are back on the clock. In the meantime, shutting the parks and not letting the trash pile up any further is the right thing to do.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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  • Necron 99||

    The real question is what does the Superintendent of Pawnee National Park, Ron Swanson, think of this government shutdown?

  • BYODB||

    When interviewed, his only comment was 'it's a good start' before throwing hot coffee on our intrepid reporter...

  • Brandybuck||

    I've played Fallout 3. I know what government shutdown turns the Smithsonian into!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It turns it into Fallout 4!

  • Rat on a train||

    How do they pay for the move to Boston?

  • BYODB||

    Caps, of course.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "In shutdown, national parks transform into Wild West—heavily populated and barely supervised," blares a headline from The Washington Post.

    I'd like to pinpoint the general time when the American media began to fetishize power.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The Leftoid Media have about as good a grasp of the history of the American West as they do of quantum physics. The 'wild west' existed largely in the pages of the penny dreadfuls of the day and on the screens of the Hollywood Western. And the Hollywood Western, while lots of fun, is only slightly more realistic than Kabuki Theatre.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Probably about the same time that rich people, major businesses, and other powerful entities owned or otherwise controlled news sources. In other words, forever.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    It's not a crisis, but it's a big deal because it's nothing but theater. Something they can close that people will notice. With national parks, in many cases, closing them actually costs the government more than keeping them open.

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    Shutting the parks is the right thing to do?

    During the 2013 shutdown, I had traveled to Minnesota to hike to the highest point in the state: Eagle Mountain in the Superior National Forest. The Feds had locked the bathroom and left a note up at the trailhead saying the forest was "closed." All the self-registration hiker forms were removed or used up. Boldly I pushed on, knowing that I was on my own and didn't have the full resources of the federal government backing my hike. Some how I made it.

  • Echospinner||

    Weak hand.

    Dems are waiting until new congress with Pelosi, a carreer swamp rat, to do anything.

    Trump is not a career politician. He made a mistake by actually promising something literally concrete.

    He could have had the same pitch without specifying a big beautiful wall. Then he could grab another billion and call it a victory.

    The situation room. That will work. Like we do not know which side is begging for a negotiation.

  • Echospinner||

    I did a lot of hiking in my younger days. A plastic trowel and some TP in the backpack solved that issue. Weighed nothing.

  • Agammamon||

    Sorry Milo, hate to break it to you but you died on that trek. This is the Hell you get when the government isn't there to protect you.

  • A Lady of Reason||

    The real crisis is all the illegals streaming in unless we do something!

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Whatcha gonna do?

  • Uncle Jay||

    It doesn't matter who visits these places.
    All that matters is these places never become privitized and the government employees working there get their raises and more benefits.
    Besides, all Americans always have an excess of capital to give away.

  • Sevo||

    Well, the lefty rags in CA (as if there were others) are horrified that some folks pooped in the woods since the public poopers weren't open.
    Isn't that enough to constitute a crisis?!

  • Radioactive||

    Hey in SF isn't that a feature?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    They could ask some of their newly arrived brown friends about pooping outdoors.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    It's not a crisis, but it is definitely an irritation, particularly because the Smithsonian really has nothing to do with Trump's stupid border wall, the crux of the dispute.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    It didn't have anything to do with Obamacare, either, which was the crux of the last major shutdown. So what's your point, David Brock?

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    People are befouling the Smithsonian now?

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    What is it with California and people shitting everywhere? Do they regard basic sanitation as some sort of Nazi thing?

  • NealAppeal||

    I'd argue with you but I've witnessed the spent-diaper-lined freeways and parking lots.

    Of course, only in other corners of the world have I seen women hike up their skirt, lean up against your car bumper, and soil the soil...even whilst said car is occupied.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    I'd argue with you but I've witnessed the spent-diaper-lined freeways and parking lots.

    Making California Mexico Again!

  • Radioactive||

    The urbanization of the wilderness ref SF!

  • unreligious||

    Considering that Joshua tree and Yosemite and the other parks mentioned attract visitors from all over the US i suspect that most of the people relieving themselves are not Californians. But hey I don't want to stop you NealAppeal and Radioactive from engaging in the popular sport of bashing California. You know the state that only gets back 79 cents for every dollar sent to the federal government and supports states like Mississippi that get back $2.02 for every dollar sent.

  • Troglodyte Rex||

    Boo fucking hoo.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    "Considering that Joshua tree and Yosemite and the other parks mentioned attract visitors from all over the US i suspect that most of the people relieving themselves are not Californians."

    This report describes the results of a visitor study at Yosemite National Park during February 2-10,
    2008. A total of 938 questionnaires were distributed to visitor groups. Of those, 563 questionnaires
    were returned, resulting in a 60% response rate.

    • United States visitors comprised 91% of total visitors, with 89% from California, and smaller
    proportions from 32 other states. International visitors were from 24 countries and comprised 9% of
    total visitation, with 9% each from Germany, Korea, Taiwan, United Kingdom. Smaller proportions
    came from 20 other countries.

    Yosemite National Park Visitor Study

  • GryFalcon||

    Mississippi is not blessed with quite as many natural wonders as California.

  • Anastasia Beaverhausen||

    No, California's just been busier making theirs "official" natural wonders.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    It is part of the new-age insanity, in the form of a purity fetish.

  • DaveSs||

    a) Even when 'regularly staffed' the National Parks are largely unsupervised activities once you get away from the roads and visitor centers. About the only time you see a ranger on a trail, the ranger is leading a walk, but since its off season in all the parks you won't see any ranger hikes.

    b) Crapping in the woods in National Parks is not unusual. Most trails don't even have pits so going off into the woods to pinch a loaf is not terribly strange on a day hike.
    The NP literature even explains the proper procedure. 100+ ft from the trail, 200+ feet from any water source, dig a small hole bury the load and pack out your dirty papers. Or better yet just bring wag bags and tote your butt-nuggets back out.

    c) Front country toilets are often shut down in winter...a lot of these places are damn cold and the buildings unheated. Rumor has it that water freezing in pipes is bad.

    d) Winter is the off season for practically every NPS unit that isn't a museum. Visitation is 1/5th to 1/20th off its summer peak.

  • Still Curmudgeoned (Nunya)||

    So you're saying you expect people to care for themselves. That doesn't sound like you care to leave any jobs for our betters.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    But most impacted are the front areas where most visitors spend all their time, and expect a Disney-like experience. Mickey never made them poop outdoors.

  • GryFalcon||

    North Rim Grand Canyon is typically closed this time of year, because you can't even get down the road to the park due to snow and ice.

  • CDRSchafer||

    Went to Joshua Tree last week and it was open to include the restrooms which were no dirtier than the average interstate. Some park rangers volunteered and helpfully gave out $130 parking tickets to people who thought they could park in the red zones.

  • GryFalcon||

    That's one way to keep their operation funded a bit long. ;)

  • ||

    this post is very well

  • GryFalcon||

    Park rangers are also authorized to shoot you, but it still doesn't make them "essential".

  • Bax||

    Government shutdown my ass.

    They never shut down the IRS, do they? Because they know that shutting down unpopular agencies would increase the demand for full-time shut down.

  • loki||

    Shouldn't we be getting a tax rebate during shutdowns? Why the hell am I paying for people not to work? Aaaaaaaaaahhhhh!

  • Hank Phillips||

    Aren't those the places where federal agents can swoop down and fine, arrest or shoot people for handling plant leaves, local repeal be damned? Let 'em stay closed. Financial pressure is pretty much like spoiler votes when it comes to repealing bad laws.

  • perlchpr||

    Would the Boy Scouts like some good publicity for a change? Because showing up with a couple dozen Boy Scout troops, twice as many pickup trucks, and a giant crate of garbage bags to clean up a National Park sounds like some good publicity waiting to happen.

  • tlapp||

    The real fear of politicians is that the vast majority of Americans will have no implications to the shut down lasting for weeks. The old game of bringing up the budget bills hours before the deadline only to scream bloody murder that not voting for it will cause a shutdown will be met with a collective yawn will die.
    Hope they stay shut down for a while. Anything the public doesn't miss can be cut permanently.


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