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What the Government Shutdown Means for Texas' National Parks

Big Bend National Park will remain open during the government shutdown, but certain services have been stopped. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)

Texas is home to 16 sites managed by the National Parks Service. The government shut down won’t stop people from visiting these parks, but it could create some challenges.

Unlike the government shutdown in 2013, a lot of National Parks, like Big Bend in Far West Texas, have remained open. But services at these parks — such as ranger tours, visitor information, and even collecting trash and operating bathrooms — have stopped.

"You can drive in," says Robert Valdez with Visit Big Bend, a tourism group. "You know, there’s no one in the entrance station there, but you can drive the main roads. You can go all the way down Santa Elena Canyon. So really, it looks almost exactly the same.”

It may all seem the same, but when you drive into the park don't expect anyone to greet you. All non-essential rangers have been furloughed. With visitor centers closed, no new park permits will be issued, but according to Big Bend officials visitors to the parks' campgrounds won't be asked to leave. “You won’t have the ranger-led hikes and things like that, but you can still come and enjoy Big Bend," says Alvarez. "And if you already had it planned in your vacation, you don’t have to cancel.”

While all National Park Service-run services have stopped, Alvarez is quick to note that in Big Bend, concessions like the Chisos Mountains Lodge, which is privately run, remain open.Other non-NPS operations at the park are expected to stay open. However, Valdez notes things like crossing to Boquillas has been discontinued because that would require ranger assistance.

During government shutdowns only essential park staff continue to work, including law enforcement and EMS. But rangers who manage the parks social media accounts are not considered essential. So if you’re thinking of tweeting a question to any national park in Texas — don’t expect a reply.

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.