The majority of the country’s national parks will close and be made off-limits to the public if the federal government shuts down, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced on Friday, a move that is likely to upend travel plans for millions of visitors to some of the country’s most popular attractions.
“Gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed,” the agency said in a statement announcing its plans to wind down operations at hundreds of sites, from icons like Yosemite to modest historical sites.
Parks, as well as the towns and businesses that rely on them for income, have been bracing for the shutdowns as Congress moves closer to a Sept. 30 deadline to keep the federal government running. At least 10 hard-right Republicans remain firmly opposed to even a temporary measure that would allow the government to keep functioning.
Not all parks will close. The Interior Department said states and local governments that wanted to keep specific parks operating could do so, if they paid the federal government. Local leaders have said the price — usually tens of thousands of dollars a day — is a bargain compared with the tourism spending national parks generate.
The governors of Arizona and Utah have already said they plan to pay to keep the gates open at parks including the Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches and Bryce Canyon.
In prior shutdowns, New York and several other states also paid to reopen attractions including Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore. It’s unclear whether they will do the same this time.
The Biden administration’s decision to close the parks to visitors is a departure from former President Donald J. Trump’s decision to keep them open, but mostly unstaffed, during a shutdown that began in December 2018. That led to lasting damage, parks officials said, including poaching, graffiti, excrement in parking lots and on trails and illegal off-roading on sensitive desert terrain.
The Department of the Interior oversees more than 400 national park sites, which employ 20,000 workers.
Agency officials said that attractions like the National Mall and the open-air memorials in Washington would continue to be open to the public. They were gated off during a shutdown a decade ago.