Federal Shutdown: What It Means for Washington Hikers
An impending government shutdown may impact your upcoming visit to our national parks and forests.
Update, Jan. 25, 2019: After 35 days, the federal government is close to a deal to resume operations until Feb. 15. Once a spending deal has been agreed upon, agencies that have been closed will be able to get back to work. Hikers should remember that it will take time to get things back to normal, including plowing roads and dealing with avalanche control. Consider giving federal land managers a few days to take stock before heading out to hike the parks and other federal lands. (Roads and facilities might not be ready for visitors yet.) We’ll share updates as more information is available.
Without a short-term budget for the federal government, the federal government is dealing with a partial shut down — impacting several government departments and dozens of agencies, including the National Park Service and our national forests. Aside from the many impacts to federal employees and programs, a government shutdown also impacts hikers and campers.
We want to provide you with helpful information about getting out on trail during a shutdown.
A note: Details about what is happening in light of the government shut down are still somewhat vague. Here's what we know right now:
NATIONAL PARKS, Monuments MAY BE ACCESSIBLE, BUT NO VISITOR SERVICES or FACILITY Access
The National Park Service has issued a draft contingency plan for operations in the event of a federal government shutdown. The guidance states that the 401 national park sites across the country should remain publicly accessible unless doing so "presents a serious and imminent threat to human life, safety or health, or a serious and imminent threat to the condition of a sensitive natural or cultural resource.” However, no visitor services will be available and facilities, including visitor centers and bathrooms, will be locked.
Be aware, park superintendents have discretion to close areas on a case-by-case basis for the purpose of protecting public safety or natural resources. This means that certain parks, park entrances or areas of a park may be closed by a locked gate. Unfortunately, NPS communications will be shut down so there isn't a way to know if an area is closed until you show up. If you decide to attempt a visit to a national park, make sure you have a back-up plan.
You can read the national parks' contingency plan here.
Specifically, the contingency plan states:
- NPS won't operate its 401 sites, including national parks, national wildlife refuges, national historic sites and national monuments. NPS have stopped providing visitor services and facilities are locked. Visitor centers, restrooms, trash collection, visitor information, educational programs and permits are not available.
- Visitors should continue to display the America the Beautiful pass.
- Roads that go through or around national parks remain open, but won't be maintained (including no plowing). For mountain pass conditions, check with the Washington Department of Transportation.
- NPS won't operate campgrounds. NPS won't provide services, and facilities are locked including: restrooms, showers, check-in/check-out, reservations and trash collection.
- Visitors at NPS campgrounds won't be asked to leave, but they will be notified that there won't be any services. Those with reservations for a later date will be notified that NPS is not providing services (including check-in/check-out) and there is no guarantee that their reserved campsite will be ready and available.
- NPS websites and social media won't be maintained, and there won't be updates on road or trail conditions.
- At the park superintendent's discretion, individual parks may close sensitive areas that are vulnerable to natural resource damage or looting.
- If visitor access becomes a health, safety or resource protection issue, then the site will be closed.
NATIONAL FOREST TRAILS OPEN, BUT CAMPING AND FACILITIES ARE CLOSED
Generally, trails on national forests remain open, but access may be limited by locked gates. Here's what we know, though these are subject to change and will be updated on this blog as we learn more. You can access the most recent version of the U.S. Forest Service Contingency Plan (December 2018). During a shutdown:
- Forest Service visitor centers and offices are closed.
- Trailheads and trails in National Forests are not closed, but all gates will be locked, limiting access to trailheads.
- Trailhead facilities like restrooms are locked, water systems shut down and garbage won't be serviced.
- Visitors at campgrounds operated by the U.S. Forest Service will be given 48 hours to vacate, with the area shut down as the last visitor leaves, not to exceed 48 hours.
- Forest Service website and social media sites won't be maintained and road and trail condition won't be provided.
- Continue to hang your Northwest Forest Pass at trailheads.
WEATHER UPDATES WILL CONTINUE
If you rely on on the National Weather Service to assess conditions before you head out hiking, you can still access that information during the shutdown. NOAA.gov and most associated websites may be unavailable, but because weather.gov 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
You can still hike and camp on state and local lands, and here in Washington, we have a wealth of public lands.
Washington State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Washington Fish & Wildlife lands remain open for hikers and other recreation users. Visitors should continue to bring their Discover Pass to hang in their windows at these sites. Check out these state parks or close-in adventures during the shutdown.
County lands and city parks remain open as well, and there are many great places to hike close by urban centers.
How do I know if a hike is on federal land?
If you are unsure if your destination is on a national forest, monument, refuge or park, head over to the applicable hiking guide entry and scroll down to 'Map & Directions'. Underneath the map, you will find trailhead information that indicateds the land manager. (The pass information is also a good clue.)