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In a moment of extreme irony, at midnight last night Google updated its homepage Doodle to celebrate Yosemite National Park’s 123rd Anniversary at the same exact time the Government Shutdown closed public access to it.

Effective immediately all federal lands are closed – this includes National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and Bureau of Land Management Lands. Employees at most places made these announcements last night or are heading into work for a few hours today to close up shop. Those hoping to look for the latest updates on the situation on these organizations’ web sites and social media accounts will be out of luck – and you won’t even be able to access the subpages to plan for trips in the future, either.

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Volunteer assistance in these areas is also not an option. An email I received from one of the Angeles National Forest’s District Recreation Officers announced,

Unfortunately, with the government in shutdown mode, all volunteers need to stop working. Facilities in the Angeles National Forest are closed. Due to the fact the Forest Service cannot have volunteers being exposed to risk and possibly getting injured when the agency is not allowed to expend funds, all volunteer work must be curtailed. Once an appropriations bill is passed by Congress, we can all go back to work.

Until Congress passes that appropriations bill, all hiking areas on federal lands are officially closed – including all trails in the Angeles National Forest and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Visitors’ Centers are closed, campgrounds are closed, and in many cases access gates may bar roads into these areas. Visitors currently in National Parks are being asked to leave today, and campers currently in those parks have to leave within 48 hours. Hikers with a backcountry permit are allowed to stay until their permits expire. State and County Parks remain open and operational, but in areas of private-public partnership like the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area it can get very confusing – popular trails like Solstice Canyon and Sandstone Peak are off-limits, while nearby areas may be accessible. As KCET notes, “Hikers will be able to access state parks in the Santa Monicas like Point Mugu’s Sycamore Canyon, but cross over the trail’s northern line into Rancho Sierra Vista and you’re officially on closed property.”

As people have commented, many of these areas are wilderness and cannot literally be completely closed off. During the California State Park shutdown a few years ago if you were found in a state park you could be charged with trespassing by law enforcement – although it is unclear whether or not people accessing federal lands during the shutdown would be subject to a similar punishment. Also, because all maintenance work in these areas has to stop, if you do decide to enter the effect of your impact on the land will be increased.

UPDATE: There is some lack of clarity on whether or not the land itself is open. Facilities are most definitely closed, although some spokespeople and outlets are saying that while the parks and forests may be “closed,” access to the trails and undeveloped campsites is still possible. National Park land IS closed and hikers risk citation for trespassing. People are still trying to get a clear, straight answer about National Forest and BLM land, though.

Of course, these cuts also have a severe economic effect beyond the federal employees’ paychecks – National Parks receive almost 300 million annual visitors and generate $30 billion in private sector spending. Roughly, for every dollar the National Parks receive, the local economies get $10 in return.

But more importantly, these areas are a central part of who we are as a country. These incredible places belong to each and every one of us. They are not just places of recreation – they are places of inspiration, rejuvenation, and meditation and their presence in our lives will be acutely felt.

During the last government shutdown in 1995, public outcry from the closure of federal lands helped motivate lawmakers in Washington to, you know, make some laws. A former spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park told the San Jose Mercury News:

“The park closures in 1995 made a tangible difference. The visual of park rangers closing down national parks, closing down the Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument — keeping Americans out of these iconic American sites — those visuals were really a strong factor in people understanding what a government shutdown meant. People got mad.”

So if you’re reading this and you’re (rightly) upset – you know who to get mad at. Let them know how you feel.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on October 1, 2013

8 Comments

  • paul willison says:

    Casey, not exactly correct. National parks are close, but most other public(federal) land is NOT. BLM, National forests, are not closed at all(it would be impossible to do so).
    I just got back from a week hunting on National forest land, and trust me it is NOT closed at all. Indeed, I had a nice conversation with a forest ranger, and oddly, the subject of the shut down never even came up.

    • @Paul,

      That is correct. I wrote this on the morning the shutdown went into effect, when no one had a clear answer about what was going on with federal land access outside of National Parks.

      Forest Service officials did come out and clarify what was going on, but it took them a few days. Later posts corrected this information, but thanks for noting it on this one for anyone who lands here! :)

  • My wife and I were coming down from camping in the Whitney Zone this morning and heard about the news. Unfortunately, it came from other hikers asking if we had a permit extending past today as their permits weren’t being issued today. While I’m glad that I was able to get our permits for before the shutdown, I couldn’t imagine how frustrating it would be to plan a trip all year (or 3, in my case) and have a ranger turn you away.

  • TJ says:

    I had to close four popups to read this article. That’s really annoying.

  • kris says:

    Great article. Very informative, but I find it very strange that they can just “shut down” or close the most beautiful lands in our Nation. Especially since they supposedly are OUR National Treasures and belong to Us, the people. And oh yea, how did people possibly view the amazing sights and scenery before the National Park Service? How can they enforce thially now that there a Rangers. In my opinion this could be one of the best times to take a hike in a NP. LESS CROWDS AND PERT FREE!
    Just leave a few bucks in the donation bin.

    • Kris,

      Law enforcement are part of the NPS staff that is not being sent home. As I mention in the post, it’s not clear exactly how this works, but during the California park shut down from a few years back, anyone caught on park lands during the closure was charged with trespassing.

      This is my response to a similar comment left on the Modern Hiker Facebook Page:

      “We went through all of these points during the CA State Park closure – can you go into the lands? Technically, yes. Should you? Probably not.

      You and I may be responsible outdoorspeople, but for every one of us that decides to trespass to enjoy a nice trail, there are a dozen others who just want to go have a party where cops aren’t likely to bother them. And now there’s no one to clean up after them, no one to protect them from criminals (like the illegal marijuana farms that always seem to proliferate when park budgets are cut), and no one to come to their aid should they need help or assistance.

      Staying off the lands is a much more responsible decision – both for us and the land. There are plenty of state, city, and county parks that are still open for us to enjoy.”

    • Dan says:

      I am dead serious when I say drop by the nearest police station to the nat park you intend to visit and ask them respectfully how many people are locked up for trespassing at the nearby Nat Park. Get a sense from the people who do the arresting and citing.

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