U.S. National Parks Lost Millions During Partial Government Shutdown

The absence of an appropriation bill enacted the Antideficiency Act which forces non-essential government operations, including the National Parks Service, to stop during the shutdown. The National Parks Conservation Association reports the Department of the Interior were able to employ just under 3,300 of the 20,000 NPS employees as “essential staff” to keep National Parks open. The severe understaffing led to varying results across the various parks, with some restricting access and many facing issues with human waste and vandalism.

The drop in quality and access may have led to National Parks facing huge drops in admission. According to monthly admission numbers from the NPS, at least 29 of the 43 national parks that count monthly admission experienced drops in admission during the month of January compared to the same time last year. Among other problems, falling visitation means a drop in entrance fee revenue, a crucial part of how some national parks are maintained.

Parks charge two types of admission fees, per person and per car. Larger parks rely more heavily on these fees and use up to 80 percent of fee revenue on park maintenance and upkeep. Using the visitation and entrance fee data from the NPS, it is possible to estimate how much money was lost during the month long government shutdown.

National Parks recorded about $43 million in entrance revenue in January 2019 compared to the previous year’s $54 million. By far, Joshua Tree National Park suffered the most, losing over $3.5 million dollars in entrance fees compared to just a year before. Other parks such as the Grand Canyon National Park and Olympic National Park also saw losses over a million dollars.

The losses are not universal, however, as some parks did see an increase in visitation compared to last year. Great Smoky Mountains National Park had nearly 55% more visitors this January compared to 2018. However, that park and four others who saw increases in visitors do not charge any type of entrance fee. Only five parks that charge entrance fees recorded more visitors than the previous year.

In order to combat the already growing backlog of infrastructure projects currently priced in the billions, the NPS introduced a series of admission fee increases in early 2018. The NPS also had planned for additional fee increases for some parks later in 2019 and 2020. The exact cost of cleanup costs and maintenance from the shutdown are currently unknown, but can only add to the rising costs of keeping U.S. National Parks clean and efficient.

National parks across the United States may have lost over 10 million dollars during the month long partial government shutdown early this year. The shutdown, which began late December 2018 when President Trump and the U.S. Congress failed to agree on the appropriations bill for 2019, lasted through late January.

View National Park Entrance Fee Profits and Losses in a full screen map

View National Park Entrance Fee Profits and Losses in a full screen map