Roundup: Government Shutdown Impacts National Parks

The current government shutdown has now entered its third week, and it doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.

The shutdown began on midnight EST on Saturday, December 22, making it the third government shutdown of 2018. President Trump wanted to move forward with building a Mexican border wall, which would require an estimated $5 billion. The House of Representatives, in which the Democrats are a majority, has been unwilling to go above the current $1.3 billion budget for general border security. Trump has threatened to extend the shutdown for a long period until he gets the demanded funding. Click here for a breakdown of the events leading up to the shutdown. 

This shutdown has left about 800,000 government workers without their salaries. Many have shared their personal stories with CNN about not being able to pay bills and rent on time. They describe their difficulties in providing for their children and families. Many have sought temporary jobs to help keep themselves afloat. Vital public benefit programs might also be at risk. According to CBS Newsfunding for SNAP, the national food stamp program, has not been allocated since the start of January. If the shutdown continues through March, no money will remain for the millions of Americans who rely on this program for food security.

Many national parks have also felt the impact of the government shutdown, including some major destinations home to glaciers. Parks are still largely accessible to the public, and entrance fees are not being collected. However, the lack of public services has been a major issue for visitors and local businesses. Here are some glacier parks that are currently suffering some impacts as a result of the shutdown.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State has had a partial shutdown on some parts of the park. This closure has affected tourism and traffic in the area which would normally be high during this time and around the Christmas and New Year holidays. The popular road to Paradise has experienced a forced closure, and local firms around the entrance have been vocal about the lost business. Local retailers, restaurants, and hotels in particular are being challenged by the lack of tourism. According to The Olympian, business owners that rely on the tourism industry have reported a decrease of sales and hotel reservations than would normally be expected at this time of year.  

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, has had significant problems with sanitation and waste. Restrooms have been closed and there are no park staff available for supervision. Some visitors of the park have opted to dispose of their various forms of waste alongside some of the roads. Mountains of garbage and human waste has led to some closures in areas of the park, like Wawona Road and Hodgson Meadows. National Geographic says that national parks like Yosemite face long-term damage from the government shutdown, and parks should be closed completely to prevent further harm to the environment.

GlacierHub spoke with a motel employee from Yosemite Cedar Lodge, who told us how business has been affected since the shutdown. According to our source, who wished to remain anonymous, there hasn’t been a large change in business, although some guests have left early. She told us that it’s hard to say exactly if it’s because of the government shutdown, but it could also be due to the recent nearby fires or other factors as well. As for the waste situation, we were told that having no ranger supervision in the parks has allowed guests to act without restraint.

The lack of park supervision may also be a contributing factor to a recent death at Yosemite. Since the start of the shutdown, three people have died in national parks. One tragedy took place in Yosemite on Christmas day, where a man slipped down a hill and fell into a river, injuring his head. Investigation of the incident was delayed because of the ongoing shutdown. A study that draws on data from 2005 to 2016 indicates that about 1.1 person dies per month in Yosemite, roughly 0.6 per month in Glen Canyon and 0.4 in Great Smoky, the three locations where the deaths occurred. Though people have died over the years in these parks, the deaths in recent weeks are at a more frequent rate than usual, suggesting that the government shutdown and lack of services may have contributed to this pattern. 

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Some parks have received visitors but with limited activity. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have remained open during the shutdown, although visitor services is unavailable. In a statement for the Casper Star-Tribune, Deputy Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said that visitors to Grand Teton should take caution for their own personal safety, as there are no staff available for guidance and assistance. Entrances are not staffed, and the park’s websites and social media accounts are not being maintained or updated, leaving the public uninformed on current conditions.

In Yellowstone, winter routes remain open although gates are not staffed and government facilities are not available. All regulations for snow-related activities remain in place, and all buildings and bathrooms are closed. Community members in the Yellowstone area have recently taken matters into their own hands. Concerned about the lack of care of park facilities, local residents have gathered to clean outhouses and take out trash. Businesses have donated supplies to help with the much needed cleanup efforts.

Glacier National Park

Some glacier destinations, however, have not been heavily impacted. The shutdown has made little difference at Glacier National Park, which is usually quiet during the winter with road closures from heavy snows. Bathrooms are still closed because of the shutdown, but trash cans are not reported to be overflowing due to the low amount of traffic relative to other parks. Businesses have said that they haven’t been affected much, and conditions are as typically expected despite the shutdown.

GlacierHub spoke with Mauri Pelto, professor of environmental science Nichols College and director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project. Pelto also does work with NASA Goddard and the USGS. He told us that the shutdown has prevented some NASA glacier projects and programs from being executed properly. The USGS, which tracks ongoing conditions in the national parks, currently conducts monitoring. Weather and environmental observations at the national parks with glaciers have been collected but are not being reported by the U.S. government, jeopardizing long-term projects.

“Sometimes shutdowns, even relatively short shutdowns, can push the planning and budgeting process for some of these programs, which can greatly affect future research,” stated Pelto. He also described the effects on the Northern Cascades National Park in Washington. Roadways are mainly forest roadways, which have also closed as a result of the shutdown. Smaller roadways have not received maintenance since the shutdown, and there are concerns as to how conditions will be once the roads open up again, whenever that may be.

There is very little information on conditions at the Northern Cascades and other national parks on the U.S. National Park Services webpage. Lack of information on closures, visitor services, and tips for taking precaution during the shutdown period greatly impacts tourism and safety. Although parks are still mostly accessible, proper staff supervision and visitor services are needed to ensure the safety of visitors and the overall wellbeing of the parks.

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Photo Friday: Mount Baker Amid Haze from Fires

This Photo Friday, catch a glimpse of Mount Baker, a large glaciated peak in the North Cascades, from the area around Bellingham in the state of Washington. Or see what the view was like at spots from which the mountain could usually be seen.

These photos are obtained first-hand from GlacierHub’s managing editor Ben Orlove who is visiting Northwest Washington to interview local residents in the small towns near the peak. The area is known for its spectacular views of Mount Baker, but these views have recently been clouded by haze from devastating forest fires that have swept across British Columbia and eastern Washington.

One afternoon during Orlove’s trip, the winds shifted and the air was a little clearer. Mount Baker was also more visible in the background. But then the winds changed again, and the heavy smoke returned.

Such smoky conditions are historically rare in the region, but this is the second year in a row that they have occurred, according to Orlove. When Mount Baker is visible, its shrinking glacier helps make visitors aware of climate change. After speaking with local residents, Orlove reported that several of them described the situation of smoky air as “the new normal.”  The fires that have made the mountain invisible for stretches of time this year have also been widely discussed in the media, with several commentators linking the fires to support for Washington Initiative 1631, a carbon emissions fee measure on the state ballot this fall. In this way, Mount Baker builds awareness of climate change, whether it is visible or not.

Mount Constitution on GlacierHub
Mount Constitution, the highest point on Orcas Island westward of Bellingham. Mount Baker, ordinarily visible from this spot, was obscured by haze. late August 2018  (Source: Ben Orlove).

 

Mount Baker in Bellinham on GlacierHub
View of Mount Baker from a neighborhood in Bellingham, on one of the few relatively clear days in late August 2018 (Source: Ben Orlove).

 

Early morning in the Fairhaven section of Bellingham, Washington, looking east.  Mount Baker  was obscured by the haze. late August 2018.(Source: Ben Orlove).
Mount Baker on GlacierHub
A spot on Bellingham Bay, from which Mount Baker is ordinarily visible. Late August 2018.(Source: Ben Orlove).

 

View of Mount Baker near the town of Seder-Woolley along the Skagit River on GlacierHub
A view from just outside Sedro-Woolley along the Skagit River. Mount Baker is usually visible from this spot. Late August 2018. (Source: Ben Orlove).

 

A clear view of Mount Rainier, south of Mount Baker, from an airplane above the smoke layer. Mount Rainier has also been obscured by smoke from the fires. Late August 2018. (Source: Ben Orlove).
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Photo Friday: Glaciers in Twilight

On July 27, night-gazers rejoiced in watching the full moon, which also presented the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The total phase of the eclipse lasted 1 hour 42 minutes and 57 seconds, eclipsing January 2018’s total lunar eclipse by approximately 26 minutes. The waning gibbous phase of the moon can be seen this week as a daytime moon.

This Photo Friday, enjoy the beauty of the moon rising over glacier-covered mountains in the Cascades during the daytime. The Cascade range extends from southern British Columbia through the states of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. It includes both non-volcanic mountains as well as glaciated volcanic mountains such as Mt Adams.

Daytime moon over Mt. Adams during sunrise (Source: Jeff Hagan/Earth Sky).

 

Daytime moon during sunset at Mount Rainer (Source: Max Pixel).

 

Moon rising over Mount Baker during Sunset (Source: Briarcroft.wordpress).

 

Sunset at Mount Shasta in California with daytime moon (Source: Jeff Hollett/Flickr).

 

Moon and Mt. Hood as seen from Hillsboro, Oregon (Source: M. O. Stevens/WikiCommons)
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Photo Friday: Inside Glacier Caves

Caves can form within glaciers as a result of water running through or under a glacier. They are often called ice caves, but the term more accurately describes caves in bedrock that contain ice throughout the year. Water usually forms on the glacier’s surface through melting, before flowing down a moulin (vertical to nearly vertical shafts within glaciers or ice sheets) to the base of the glacier. Glacier caves can also form as a result of geothermal heat from hotsprings or volcanic vents beneath glaciers, such as the Kverkfjöll glacier cave in Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland, or where glaciers meet a body of water, with wave action.

Glacier caves can collapse or disappear because of glacier retreat. For example, the Paradise Ice Caves on Mount Rainier in Washington had 8.23 miles of passages in 1978. However, it collapsed in the 1990s, and the section of the glacier that contained the caves retreated between 2004 and 2006. Prior to collapse, caves can be used to access the interior of glaciers for research purposes, with the study of glacier caves sometimes known as glaciospeleology. Others also serve as popular tourist attractions due to their beauty.

A woman stands at the edge of one of the streams that flowed out of the Paradise Ice Caves in 1925 (Source: University of Washington Libraries / Creative Commons).

 

Kverkfjöll in Vatnajökull formed as a result of geothermal heating (Source: David Phan / Creative Commons).

 

A photo, taken in 1909, of an ice cave in Antarctica containing stalactites (Source: NOAA)

 

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentine Patagonia has a cave at its northern end, where it meets Argentino Lake (Source: Martin St-Amant / Creative Commons).

 

Glacier caves, such as Fox Glacier Cave in British New Zealand, are often popular tourist attractions (Source: anoldent / Creative Commons).

 

Read about a time when Putin visited a glacier cave here.

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