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Editor’s Note: The following is a policy statement from the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) on the impact of the government shutdown on federal recreation sites and programs.

The federal shutdown is impacting federal workers, businesses and nonprofits, communities, and countless American families. This much is clear: the shutdown poses serious problems for outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation community calls on Congress and the Administration to end the lapse in funding which has disrupted access to, and operations of, our national parks and other federal recreation sites.

Media stories have focused on the shutdown’s impacts to visitors — a serious concern. Also serious are impacts on the 4.6 million Americans employed in the $734 billion per year outdoor recreation industry. These workers, public and private, provide services on public lands and waters and in gateway communities across the nation — as well as in manufacturing and retail locations. Canceled visits to federal recreation sites interrupt consumer spending and cause private sector losses, which will not be restored by Congressional action.

State and local governments, private partners, nonprofit organizations, volunteers and more have stepped up to provide assistance during the current shutdown, demonstrating the depth and breadth of support for special places. The State of New York is keeping the Statue of Liberty open; ski areas and permittees with winter operations on national forests are operating and helping with efforts to keep adjacent agency sites open and clean; gear and apparel companies are making financial donations; concessioners in parks have taken on added responsibility for restrooms and trash; and gateway communities, nonprofits and individual volunteers are protecting natural and cultural resources and partnering to provide great visitor experiences during these trying times.  The outdoor recreation industry will continue to help during the shutdown but is calling on the Administration and lawmakers to end this shutdown immediately.

We propose a conversation around common-sense policies for future shutdowns, so America’s businesses, families and parks are not put in this position again. The great outdoors should be exempt from harm over issues unrelated to the great outdoors.  Other federal programs partially supported by fees ‑ such as the U.S. Postal Service ‑ are insulated from government shutdowns by non-appropriated dollars. There should be a dialogue around whether our federal lands and waters can be insulated as well.  Entrance, camping and other recreation fees that are collected under the authorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) are important sources of revenue for the federal agencies. Every day these fees are not collected funding for key recreation projects, programs and maintenance backlog are hampered.  Many parks are now using FLREA accounts to replace appropriated funds interrupted by the shutdown.  We encourage a dialogue around whether or not FLREA dollars should be used in this capacity.

Once the government is fully reopened, Congress is expected to provide full FY2019 funding.  FLREA funds used in the interim should be reimbursed, and there should also be public discussion about reimbursing partners ‑ state, local and private ‑ who have contributed their own money to protect both park resources and visitor enjoyment during the shutdown, and who have in many cases endured losses caused by the shutdown.

Federal shutdowns may well become more frequent but should not keep people from enjoying the benefits of their great outdoors.  The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) looks forward to a role in convening all of those committed to the outdoors and participating in discussions to achieve consensus on issues raised by the shutdown ‑ including modernizing the collection of FLREA funds and ways to harness the capability of partners and volunteers during and after these difficult times.  We are eager to work with Congress, the Administration and other public and private stakeholders to make sure future funding issues do not impact the ability of visitors to enjoy healthy, safe, active fun outdoors on their federal lands and waters.

America has a long history of supporting parks, forests, lakes and other public lands and waters during times of crisis. ORR calls on everyone — public agencies, private organizations and citizens alike — to recommit, to keeping our great outdoors a vibrant backbone of the outdoor recreation economy.

In the meantime, please share these common-sense reminders and visit these sites for additional information.

  •  If federal lands near you are closed, check out your local, state or private recreation sites instead. https://parkscore.tpl.org/#sm.0003xihx412hxdczt0d1l1seuuiir
  • If you are visiting a federally-managed site, leave the area in better shape than you found it.
  • If you see someone vandalizing or destroying property, notify local law enforcement.
  • If you are enjoying a free visit, consider donating to the National Park Foundation, the National Forest Foundation or one of the many local nonprofit organizations who support our public lands and waters.