THIS is a story about the impacts of the federal government shutdown from the perspective of one of the last visitors at Yellowstone National Park.
The few of us who were lucky enough to be there with reservations encountered the barricaded beauty of the park in its depopulated state. The closed entrances kept new visitors out and all scenic spots remained blocked to us. Without a fully operative federal government, visitors had to swiftly vacate the park.
All national parks have been closed, yielding numerous unintended consequences. It is not just park employees who must take leave. Employees of private companies that contract with parks must operate on suspended pay and await uncertain outcomes. Local businesses that depend on tourism must forgo revenue. And park visitors, American and foreign, must abandon their plans. Many of these plans have been costly in money and time, especially for guests from abroad.
America’s national parks are some of the treasures of our great nation. This realization dawned on me for the first time as I witnessed the throngs of tourists from around the globe who had come to experience one of America’s crown jewels: Yellowstone National Park. As I gazed upon the geysers, canyons, mountains, forests, plains and herds, a sense of the grandeur of God’s creation filled my soul.
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To my surprise, sharing this experience with travelers from abroad stirred a patriotic sense in me. How fortunate I am to be an American with means to enjoy our country’s natural riches. And, naively, I said to myself: So, others might criticize and deride the USA, yet many make expensive pilgrimages to our majestic national parks.
Then last Tuesday morning, all visitors to national parks were sent away and barred entrance at the gates. Those of us who live near these parks and have the time, money, and wherewithal to make travel adjustments, bear little harm — perhaps even benefit. But contemplating the effects on employees, businesses and other visitors disturbs me. And what will our foreign guests say about the U.S. when they return to their home countries? For some, visiting our national parks marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feel ashamed of our federal government at this time.
Many wonder what the budget debate has to do with national park availability. Some regard the provision of recreational spaces as an unnecessary function of government. Yet, livelihoods and relationships blossom through our parks. Our national parks inspire a love for country, nature and God.
Moreover, this delineation between crucial and non-essential government functions reflects a particular political perspective on the role of government in a just society.
The debate over the federal budget arises from just these contentions. But as our elected officials haggle, it would be worthy of them to consider all the impacts of their strategies in the pursuit of justice.
Jessica Christie Ludescher is associate professor of management and philosophy at Seattle University. She is on sabbatical fall quarter.