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Shutdown Revenue Loss Could Dig National Parks Into an 'Even Bigger Financial Hole'

In addition to irreparable physical damages, the National Park Service lost an estimated $10 to $11 million in revenue during the five-week partial government shutdown. This loss takes critical funding away from things like park maintenance, repairs, visitor services, and habitat restoration.

National parks may collect "recreation fees" under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. According to the NPS, 115 out of 418 parks collect and keep around 80 percent of visitor fees, diverting the remaining 20 percent to parks that do not collect visitor fees. So while national parks in California and Hawaii lost the most revenue due to their popularity at this time of year, national parks across the country may suffer from the shutdown revenue loss—even ones that never collected entrance fees in the first place.

During the shutdown, acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt (whom President Donald Trump now plans to nominate to officially fill the position) directed 23 parks to dip into their recreation fee funds to restart toilet maintenance and trash collection. That decision is now under legal review, as the stated purposes for the use of collected fees do not include funding for general park operations during a government shutdown.

Parks were expected to collect $310 million in visitor fees this year before the shutdown losses, and the NPS operates on an annual budget of $2.7 billion, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

"While this amount is less than 13 percent of the agency's annual operating funds from Congress, the money goes a long way in many parks," Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive officer of the NPCA, said in a statement. "Diverting this money will dig our parks into an even bigger financial hole. This will hurt rangers, parks, visitors and the tourism economy long after the shutdown is over."

The NPS faces a maintenance backlog of over $11.6 billion. This accounts for money needed to perform deferred maintenance projects on roads, bridges, buildings, campgrounds, water systems, and more. The NPS fiscal year 2019 budget includes $99.5 million to reduce deferred maintenance to a "manageable" level, as well as $112.9 million for timely cyclic maintenance projects to avoid being deferred.

It is not yet clear how much FLREA funding was spent during the shutdown or what impact the shutdown losses will have on the deferred maintenance backlog.