This website and blog post represent my opinions and do not represent the opinions of the National Park Service.
I’m unemployed. Nothing new about that though, I’ve been unemployed since September 2017. As competition increases, and funding decreases, many people work seasonally (6 months) for the National Park Service. Getting an available position for the winter season is extremely difficult, and I was fortunate I was able to work at Mesa Verde in the winter in the past.
Mesa Verde National Park is where I was working during the government shutdown in October of 2013. A lot was different then. In 2013, they closed all Federal Lands, Mesa Verde included. It was a weird time period as I was made unemployed, but couldn’t go anywhere in case if the government opened again and we had to report to work. Also, we (the employees living the park) couldn’t go anywhere in the park. It was like a weird little ghost town community; we could only walk around our housing. Just like us, people weren’t happy with the parks being closed.
The Federal Lands of the United States belong to the people, and the people should have access to them. The people demanded it. The people wanted it. So, the people took it by breaking locks, destroying government property (our, the people’s property), left waste uncared for, and more.
This year the government decision was to keep open the public’s lands, to a point. Access to the parks would be granted, but with most employees furloughed, there would be limited visitor services. For some parks with big concessionaires, like the businesses that run the lodges, this may not be too much of a hindrance. For other parks though, no bathrooms, trash collection, or roads maintenance can become a significant impact to the resource and the visitor.
Thankfully, the people remember what happened in 2013 and have been treating these places with care. There have been many reports of people being respectful to the resource, picking up trash, and assisting each other. This lifts my park ranger soul. I hope these people continue this zeal for stewardship when things get back open and visitation grows. I hope we continue to make these lands a place for everyone since they belong to everyone.
I’m still scared though. Are my coworkers and I unessential to the parks? Are Park Rangers needed? Do we make an impact on visitors? I certainly hope so. The National Parks are more than just places that protect our nation’s historical, cultural, and natural resources. They are places for the people to go and connect with something that is bigger than them; to learn something about each other and ourselves. The National Park Service, like many other businesses, has its issues but it strives to create opportunities for the people to do this. I know few visitors interact with park rangers when they visit a National Park. Even if you don’t go to programs I hope you have at least had positive encounters with rangers, and the services you have used, to encourage a place where you can connect on your own.
As with most things in life, there is a good and bad side. Thankfully this shutdown wasn’t 16 days long like in 2013, so hopefully the positive will surpass the negative. There has been rumors and reports of individuals disrespecting the rules and resources; using metal detectors on our battlefields, trash piling up at the National Mall Memorials, and people riding snowmobiles on boardwalks in Yellowstone.
There has been some negative, but lets focus on the positive instead and keep this passion for stewardship alive.