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Toll of government shutdown still being tallied at national parks

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Roosevelt Arch of Yellowstone National Park. Over the 35-day shutdown, many parks around the nation were subjected to trash buildup and the destruction of features. PHOTO COURTESY OF NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

MONTANA FREE PRESS

Federal employees have returned to work at public lands throughout the nation, but the cost of keeping national parks open during the record partial government shutdown remains unknown.

With only skeleton crews available to staff the parks, trash piled up and some natural features were destroyed. In response, acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt directed the National Park Service to tap fee reserves to support law enforcement, sanitation, safety and emergency services.

Those reserves come from revenue generated by entrance and campground fees, and are allocated to stay within the park system for visitor experience enhancement projects under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. They are mostly used to benefit visitors by installing signs, restoring habitat, creating interpretive programs and chipping away at a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog.

Fees weren’t collected during the 35-day shutdown, but FLREA dollars were siphoned to keep the parks operating. There appears to be no plan to replenish them.

“Many people who I’ve spoken to think that probably won’t happen,” said Phil Francis, retired superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway and a former deputy superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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