THE BLOG
10/18/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Dec 18, 2013

Back in Business?

Yesterday, many could say the nation went back to business. Federal employees returned to work, government programs and facilities opened, and the national parks returned to standard operations. We are excited and relieved to have all of America's 401 national parks open again. And while things appear to be returning back to normal -- what we experienced over the last 16 days should give us pause -- the impact of the shutdown will be lasting, and in several ways cannot be reversed.

Even a quick overview paints a clear picture of the widespread effects that will be felt across the National Park System.

  • More than 21,000 National Park Service employees, the dedicated men and women who protect and steward our nation's most treasured places, were furloughed.
  • Approximately 11.4 million park visitors missed out on unforgettable memories and once-in-a-lifetime experiences because they were unable to access the parks.
  • Approximately 12,500 concession employees were furloughed, placed on leave without pay, or laid off.
  • The concessions operators lost approximately $80 million while the government was shutdown and parks were closed.
  • Collectively, gateway communities lost approximately $1.2 billion due to the lack of spending from national park visitors.
  • The National Park Service lost an estimated $7.2 million in revenue.

Many of our own in-park programs at the National Park Foundation were impacted. Dozens of the Foundation's Ticket to Ride field trips were canceled, preventing more than 6,000 students from experiencing hands-on learning in America's living classrooms. About half of the Foundation's America's Best Idea programs were forced to cancel scheduled activities, and parks like San Antonio Missions National Historical Park had to cancel programs that would have welcomed 500 youth to the park. Likewise, many scheduled volunteer trail maintenance days and healthy living focused programs made possible by the Foundation's Active Trails grants had to be canceled. We are currently working with parks, schools and community organizations to reschedule and restore what was canceled or postponed. And these are just a sampling of the park programs that were negatively impacted by the shutdown.

If anything, this moment has reminded us all of how important the parks are to each and every one of us. More than ever, we stand in solidarity with the men and women of the National Park Service, the local Friends Groups, and the park businesses and concessioners, and thank them all for their dedication and perseverance. Closing the parks was counterintuitive to everything our national park community represents and no one wanted to turn people away. For all that our national park community does and provides, they deserve better than what was handed to them over the last 16 days.

With time, things will likely return to normal, but will we really ever be back in business? I fear for many of those in the parks community that there is a long road ahead to find that answer. Park visitors, both domestic and international, may think twice before planning their next national park trip because they may worry about being turned away due to an unexpected shutdown. That uncertainty may be costly.

However, we stand united to help, working with the National Park Service employees, local Friends Groups, concessioners, partners, volunteers, visitors and others to shape the next century for our national parks together. That first step starts today when you go visit a national park. Go now! Enjoy all they have to offer. When you are there, thank the National Park Service employees who work so hard to preserve these places, meet the local volunteers and supporters that give of their time and resources to help protect them, and visit the local business owners that help shape your experience. As you do, we want to hear your story. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and at www.nationalparks.org and share your national park experience with the community.

Together -- we can move forward. We look forward to hearing how you will get back out there and explore your parks!