Government Shutdown Ends – National Parks Reopen, Antarctica Still In Doubt

800px Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP Diliff

By now I’m sure you’re all well aware that the shutdown of the U.S. government has ended and all services are being restored. This is, of course, a good thing for not only the States but the rest of the world, because if a budget compromise hadn’t been reached by yesterday, the U.S. would have defaulted on its debt, causing all kinds of economic issues across the globe. Fortunately that didn’t happen and some semblance of normalcy can return one again.

With the standoff between Democrats and Republicans over (at least for now!) the federal government began ramping up operations once again on Wednesday evening. As a result, all of America’s national parks are open once again and visitors have already been flowing through their gates. With the fall travel season in full swing, this is good news for everyone who enjoys the outdoors and it means that we are no longer officially shut out from some of the most spectacular landscapes in North America, if not the world. I say “officially shut out” because many visitors to the parks ignored barricades and went inside during the shutdown anyway.

The news is not so rosy for the researchers and scientists hoping to travel to Antarctica this season. As I mentioned previously, the shutdown forced the government to put several Antarctic bases into “caretaker status” which essentially reduces everything to a skeleton crew and maintains the bare minimum or resources. Ramping back up from that isn’t as easy as removing barricades and opening gates, as there are a lot of logistics that go into supplying those bases and ensuring staff can arrive there safely. Most of those plans were canceled or put on hold pending resolution to the budget crisis, and since those schedules are so tightly set, getting back on schedule is an uphill battle.

The National Science Foundation is currently evaluating its options and working to get back into service. As of this writing, their website still isn’t even functional. From what I understand, they’ll spend the next few days figuring out which Antarctic projects have priority and determining what funding they’ll have available, before deciding on how to proceed.

If I were to guess, I’d day we’ll see a paired down Antarctic schedule for the season ahead. Some projects will still be salvaged but others will have to be delayed until next year or beyond. Operations will likely ramp up much more slowly than normal and will probably be at a much lower capacity. We’ll just have to wait to see how things play out, but with the Antarctic expedition season about to commence, decisions will need to be made quite quickly.

I, for one, am glad to have the parks back in operation and at least some movement in Antarctica. Now if we could just get some people to move in Washington, things would be much better all around.

Kraig Becker