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UTAH — Entrances to national parks will be blocked and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed if Congress doesn’t reach a budget agreement this weekend, the Department of Interior said Friday.
The stance is a reversal from five years ago when the Trump administration kept some iconic parks open in a move that has been lambasted as illegal by the Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog.
This time around, the majority of more than 420 national park units will be off-limits to the public, Interior officials said. The governors of Arizona and Utah vowed to keep some of the most iconic parks open with state funding, including Grand Canyon and Zion.
Whether tourists can access other national parks will depend on size, location and other factors. Generally, if a site is closed or locked during non-business hours it will remain that way, Interior officials said. Places like the National Mall will stay open, but there are no guarantees that restrooms or trash will be maintained.
“The public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety,” the Interior Department said in a statement.
The director of the National Park Service can enter into non-reimbursable arrangements with state, tribal or local governments, or third parties for donations to fund park operations, the department said. Shutdown contingency plans were expected to be posted online early Friday.
The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association doesn’t oppose such agreements but noted that keeping sites open during a shutdown without sufficient staff and other resources can be be disastrous.
For example, trash cans and portable toilets overflowed at Joshua Tree National Park during a shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019 that lasted 35 days. Some tourists driving off road damaged the fragile ecosystem.