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During Shutdown, Visitors Still Flock To National Parks

Glacier National Park sign.
Nicky Ouellet
Montana Public Radio
Glacier National Park remains open but with limited visitor services during the partial federal government shutdown.

Two weeks into the partial federal government shutdown, people are still flocking to national parks, including Glacier, with or without their typical amenities.

Glacier’s Going-To-The-Sun Road closed two months ago, but a dozen cars were parked at the gate Saturday.

There was a steady stream of people swishing by on cross country skis or trudging along on snowshoes when I visited the park Saturday. For the most part, it was just really quiet.

Skiers and snowshoers hike behind a closed gate in Glacier National Park, Dec. 2018.
Credit Nicky Ouellet
Montana Public Radio
Skiers and showshoers hike up Going-To-The-Sun Road, which closed for the season in October 2018.

Most private businesses in the park closed months ago. Now, the shutdown has closed the visitor centers, entrance stations and other park-run services usually open in winter. A skeleton staff of federal law enforcement officers, park dispatchers and snowplow crews are working. Elsewhere, Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks in California announced Monday they’re closing campgrounds for health and safety concerns as litter and human waste pile up, and gating some roads to reduce the need for search and rescue.

Glacier’s been more quiet. Visitation here drops from half a million or more people each summer month to 20,000 or so in the winter.

"It's a whole different vibe," says Lyndsey Medsker, who was visiting from Washington, D.C. "This is peaceful and snowing. It’s a winter wonderland."

Medsker says nearly all National Park Service lands in the nation's capital, including children’s playgrounds, dog parks, Smithsonian Museums and National Monuments, have been closed during the shutdown.

"If it were summer and all the facilities were closed down, then I think it'd have a huge impact, obviously," she says. "We weren't expecting facilities or restaurants to be open so I don’t think it really impacted today at all."

Ben Piven is from Brooklyn, New York. He and some friends spent the day snowshoeing in the Park, which they said was great aside from no toilet paper at the vault toilets, which were still open.

"It's certainly a bummer that what goes on in Washington, D.C. is very dysfunctional politically, and has to impact the way people appreciate nature this far away from the District of Columbia," he says. "Hopefully by January 2 or so they can get it sorted? Fingers crossed."

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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