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Toddler Tantrums, the National Parks, and Shutdown Woes

Why We Must Begin Shutdown Recovery Efforts Now, Beginning with Our Parks

Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park. Photo credit: Megan A. Carney

During the final days of winter break, my family ventured to one of our nation’s most visited and cherished destinations, Zion National Park. Since the entrance booth was unstaffed, we got in for free.

While we didn’t have to deal with the traffic jams, overflowing trash cans, litter, and vandalism reported at other parks throughout the country, we did have to endure a tantrum by our stubborn four-year old as we attempted one of Zion’s easier trails. Cold, tired, and despising her new boots, she screamed and cried and showed not an ounce of humiliation as passerby on the trail shot us a mix of sympathetic and uncomfortable glances.

Like her, I was angry and irritated with present circumstances, though for different reasons. But adults, unlike children, should not throw tantrums. Instead, we solve problems. If our government cannot do that in the case of this national shutdown, we must.

Trump’s shutdown has furloughed tens of thousands of government employees. At national parks alone, close to 17,000 staff have been affected. Even where parks have remained open, due to the generosity of states such as Arizona and New York as well as local nonprofits such as the Zion National Park Forever Project, services are extremely limited.

With parks such as Zion receiving close to nearly 10,000 visitors this time of year, the National Parks Conservation Association estimates that the Park Service is losing upwards of $400,000 per day from entrance fee revenue. Surrounding communities that depend on park tourism are losing an estimated $20 million per day during the shutdown.

Depriving federal workers of wages, especially during the holiday season, and depriving families of the chance to appreciate our country’s natural wonders runs contrary to our nation’s values, regardless of what side of the aisle you sit on. While lawmakers, under the guidance of stubborn leadership, have essentially staged a tantrum, more rational citizens must defend our national parks.

Some may argue that shutting down the parks is merely an inconvenience for tourists. Yet there’s so much more at stake. Amidst the barrage of threats to our nation’s land, water, air, and the diversity of species that depend on these natural resources – all of which are notably under increased duress with Trump’s rollback of environmental regulations – national parks represent one of the few protected areas on the planet. The longer they stay shut down, the more irreparable harm that might result.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, former U.S. president and champion of conservation efforts, “Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history…for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches…”

That’s why upon returning home from our vacation, we remitted our entrance free online to Zion National Park. However, we also hneed a much more robust and organized collective response to help the Park Service and surrounding communities to get back on their feet with or without the support of the federal government.

Megan A. Carney is Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She is the Director of the UA Center for Regional Food Studies. Follow her on Twitter @megan_a_carney.

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