Working at a National Park During the Government Shutdown

Working at a National Park During the Government Shutdown

At the time of writing this, the curtain has already been drawn on the epic battle taking place on the stage of political theater. Two skilled specialists trained in the techniques of coercive rhetoric spread their teeth and reveal their silver tongues.

No one seems to be sure what will come of this heated conflict–and all the world is watching.

On one side, an elephant on rampage, determined to achieve its ends for funding the blockade of illegal immigration. On the other side, a stubborn mule, unwilling to budge over the allocation of government funding.

If I were to say that I were painted red or painted blue on this cause, would it really matter?

My political opinion hardly matters much in times like this. After all, isn’t it obvious that there’s some malevolent agenda afoot–one that seeks to divide and conquer?

My primary concern here is not to address the government shutdown as a biased observer, as so many are wont to do. Instead, I want to contribute to the discussion of how the national parks are affected during the shutdown.

This is a story of what it’s like to work at the Grand Canyon during the partial government shutdown.

The Grandest Canyon

Did you know that this year, 2019, the Grand Canyon will celebrate its centennial anniversary as a national park on February 26th?

That’s right, although the Canyon is around 5 to 6 million years old, the park system was established way back in 1919.

Perhaps it would also interest you to learn that today this national park annually admits 6 million guests, and is projected to admit 7 million for its hundredth birthday.

The party is going to be grand, surely. There is going to be a Teddy Roosevelt impersonator, a John Muir lookalike, groovy concerts, plenty of historical presentations going on, guided tours, and even a giant birthday cake.

The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s seven natural wonders, a UNESCO World Heritage site, a geologic treasure trove, and a place that regularly lodges some larger than life celebrities (think: Oprah and Bill Clinton).

It is not only the crown jewel of the state of Arizona, and a point of American pride, but the Grand Canyon also belongs to all the citizens of the world as a world heritage site. Plenty come to gaze upon its natural beauty and contemplate the sheer immensity of its size.

The Ducey Directive

So what would happen if everything the Grand Canyon has to offer was closed down for the next month? For the next year? For until God knows when?

And what would happen to the Grand Canyon Village and other local communities if guests weren’t regularly coming to visit?

It seems there’s no end in sight when it comes to whether or not President Trump will get funding for his border wall. For all we know, parts of the government could still have their doors barred many months from now–including NASA, the Department of Agriculture, and the National Park System.

So how are we still living and working at the Grand Canyon during all of this?

We have Arizona governor, Doug Ducey to thank.

See, back in early 2018, the government went through another partial shutdown. Although that government shutdown was short-lived compared to the current dysfunction, Arizona was determined to do something about how future shutdowns would affect its greatest national treasure.

On February 9th, 2018, Governor Ducey signed a bill into place called the Grand Canyon Protection Plan, which outlined methods of strategic planning and budgeting to keep the park open. It was estimated that it would cost $46 thousand a week in order to allow a skeleton crew of employees to keep the GCNP up and running.

Business, as Usual

One might expect that with all the drama in the government presently, and the constant risk of bigger threats made by the president, the properties on the Grand Canyon’s south rim would cease all hiring.

We’ve found the case to be the exact opposite.

In September 2018, we were contacted by a hiring coordinator from one of the lodging companies at the Grand Canyon. We were both offered jobs inside the park and subsequently made plans to move to Arizona from Michigan.

After the televised debacle over the border wall, and word initially broke lose that the government would enter a partial shut down, we became concerned that we would lose our newly offered jobs.

With a few phone calls, and one highly anticipatory train ride, we finally arrived here at the Grand Canyon fully equipped with new jobs. We were set up with employee housing, uniforms, and a full day orientation that would prepare us for the upcoming season of work.

All seems to be mostly well and good here at the Canyon. The services that remain operational include lodging, restaurants, grocery stores, gift shops, bicycle rentals, guided tours, and park shuttles. Mules still take paying customers down into the canyon, as well.

Even the bathrooms are kept clean and the trash bins are regularly emptied, as per Governor Ducey’s directive.

Gaps in the Canyon

While the park continues to draw in large crowds of people, there are a few noticeable elements missing.

Every once in a blue moon, a NPS ranger drives by in a truck. While still on duty, the rangers are actually choosing to work, as most of them have not received a paycheck since the beginning of the shutdown.

In addition, the NPS staffed visitor centers and contact stations have been closed. There are no ranger lead programs about the wildlife at the Grand Canyon, and the ranger tours taking guests to scenic viewing points have also ceased.

The park’s Backcountry Information Center is also closed. Customers with previously issued permits for backcountry camping or river trips on the Colorado River are allowed to proceed without any change, but no new permits are being issued. As you might imagine, this has also made it so that anyone can camp in the Canyon as they wish…but there is also word that there are still volunteer rangers in the Canyon checking permits. We advise that hikers proceed at their own risk.

Entrance stations to the park have also remained open, as in the gates are open, but there are no NPS staff members in the booth. This essentially means that individuals are able to enter the park for free.

Guests are also still able to take advantage of the Mather Campground, as well as the RV park, but no one is manning the booths there either. Reserved campsites therefore are of no guarantee.

Weighing the Difference

While I cannot speak for Yosemite or Yellowstone, I do know that here at the Grand Canyon everything is mostly still operational. While the shutdown may mean good news for some people trying to escape the cost of entering the park, it has meant bad news for others, such as the government employees going without a paycheck.

There seems to be a lot of confusion over the partial shutdown and how it has affected many of the various departments in the government. My intention here is simply to comment on the state of the GCNP from an inside point of view.

It’s not every day that people find the opportunity to work in a national park. Even more unique is the opportunity to work at a national park while the government is partially closed.

Perhaps you’re screaming for the government to build that wall. 

Or maybe you’re protesting in the streets that the wall is immoral and overpriced.

Either way, if you can take some time to get over the disputes, and you wish to see something awesome, come to the Grand Canyon. We’ll gladly house and feed you while you stay.

As a closing remark, I think there’s a lot of importance in getting back to nature when you’re feeling particularly perturbed over a situation. You can learn plenty about the environment, about yourself, and about your enemy when you look upon something beautiful in the world. 

I’m certain that most magnificent part of the Grand Canyon is the fact that people from all over the world are coming to see it. It is an experience that everyone gets to share. As far as the legitimacy of a border wall goes, who can really say?


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