What the Government Shutdown Means for Climbers

The government has been shut down for two weeks, and congressional representatives and the President warn that it may stay closed for much longer. What does it mean for climbers' ability to access and enjoy the 60% of climbing areas located on our federally managed public lands?

Unlike other past government shutdowns, the Trump administration is the first to leave the gates to many of our public lands open—without a plan for managing the impacts generated by thousands of visitors. For now, climbers can still access Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Rocky Mountain, New River Gorge, Obed, Rumney, Red Rock and most of the hundreds of other climbing areas in federally managed public lands.

Although climbers and the American public prefer our public lands open, unfettered access can damage these sensitive lands pretty quickly when they are not supported with emergency services, natural resource protection, law enforcement, bathroom maintenance, and snow plowing. Already, the shutdown has resulted in expensive and measurable damages to our public natural resources.

Across the country, some local climbers and other organizations have rallied to help maintain our public lands during the shutdown. At Joshua Tree National Park, Cliffhanger Guides and Friends of Joshua Tree National Park have teamed up to clean and restock toilets, remove trash and provide visitor information. Climbers are also helping to keep Yosemite National Park clean while the human waste piles up. And a non-profit is helping to keep Zion National Park up and running. However, some warn the well-intended citizens that cleaning pit toilets without the necessary hepatitis vaccinations that are mandatory for federal employees is risky.

Despite the valiant efforts of many volunteers and the Administration’s order to keep parks open, if the shutdown drags on we expect to see more national parks close entrance gates and bathrooms because of resource damages, unplowed roads, and illegal activities. The President just rejected a bipartisan deal presented to him by Republican leader McConnell to reopen the government, to the detriment of our public lands and government services. The shutdown has already resulted in hundreds of thousands of federal employees not getting paychecks (some are forced to work without pay), lost revenue for public land gateway communities, restricted access to many of America’s public lands and landmarks, and extensive environmental damages to our national parks, forests, and climbing areas.

Access Fund is proud of the climbing community’s incredible efforts to steward our public climbing areas and set a good example by following regulations and packing out trash and human waste, despite the current lack of services. However, setting the precedent that volunteers can manage our public lands when the government can’t do its job is not a good one. This government shutdown proves that our public lands need appropriate funding, land management, and environmental protections. National parks and forests are not political chips. They are our national heritage and birthright, and we are hoping for a quick resolution to this shutdown.

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