On a trip that spanned 3,200 miles and four parks, two stood out: Yosemite National Park, and Redwoods National and State Parks — one was affected by the shutdown and the other was being propped up with state funding. The contrast between the two was stark.
In late December, my husband, Jon, our two kids and I embarked on a 10-day family vacation to explore a few of America’s National Parks over winter break. For my 9-year-old Annabelle and 11-year-old Benji, parks are their favorite thing in the world. Visiting parks has become a sort of family tradition, and this trip was the first time any of us would see some of America’s most famous ones.
For the whole month of December, we excitedly planned our routes and activities. But the Friday night before we were about to go, Jon and I heard on the news that the government was officially shut down, and that included the National Park Service. What are we going to do?, I thought. Within 24 hours, the parks announced that they were still open, so we decided to continue with our plans.
On a trip that spanned 3,200 miles and four parks, two stood out: Yosemite National Park, and Redwood National and State Parks — one was affected by the shutdown and the other was being propped up with state funding. The contrast between the two was stark.
Just two days into the government shutdown, we arrived at Yosemite. I’d wanted to go all my life and was excited to discover it with my own children. But the government shutdown made the park an awful nightmare.
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Imagine an amusement park that was open for a day with no charge and no staff. People were bringing in huge rigs and vans, parking any which way all along the side of the road. The Junior Rangers program, where kids can get their passport stamped with the park’s symbol, wasn’t in operation — devastating news for my Annabelle. The trails were flooded with trash. People were climbing off trails and running their dogs off-leash, ignoring the signs directing them otherwise. A few miles in, we looked to the right on a road and saw a massive setup of tents on an area that was not a designated campground. These are the opportunities that people take advantage of and the consequences our natural resources suffer when park rangers aren’t there to prevent them.
Our last stop was the redwoods, which is comanaged by the state of California, so fortunately state officials were maintaining a lot of it. We felt so blessed to have the park rangers present. Not only were the trails pristine and traffic normal, but one visitor’s center also was open, so Annabelle could get her passport stamped by the Junior Rangers program. I couldn’t believe the stark difference between here and the rest of our destinations. This was how our entire family vacation should have been — but thanks to Trump’s shutdown, it wasn’t.
Meanwhile, as our national parks were trashed and hundreds of thousands of federal workers suffered the effects of missed paychecks, the Trump administration was doing all it could to ensure the shutdown did not impact special interests in the oil industry. Despite the fact that the Department of the Interior was included in the government shutdown, Acting Secretary of the Interior and former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt was still issuing permits for oil companies to drill wells on federal lands and oceans. By providing government services to the oil industry, but stripping those services from our public lands and for families like mine across the country, the Trump administration showed its priorities.
The whole situation is hurtful. As a family that values these American treasures, it hurt to bring my kids through these chaotic and trash-filled parks. This is not what it looks like to conserve our natural and national heritage for future generations.
National park rangers are the backbone of this system. This vacation made my family respect their presence more than ever. To know that they were furloughed and missing paychecks breaks my heart. We plan to one day revisit these parks, but we worry about what the long-term effect is going to be.
The government will reopen, but I worry about what my family — and others like us — will have to return to.