It was absolutely awful to work so hard and then get a letter saying that you’re ‘nonessential.’ We didn’t know if we would be paid, but those of us who lived on-site in park housing had to continue paying rent anyway. Obviously, everyone had to continue paying rent… it just felt especially messed up that we’d have to continue to pay the government when they weren’t paying us. We weren’t allowed to work, but we weren’t allowed to go far either so that we could be ready to get things up and going again as soon as the powers that be got their acts together. The worst part was that many of us were asked to spend our last non-furloughed hours standing at the gate, turning visitors away.
There was a big public backlash about the parks being closed. A lot of people entered the parks anyway as an act of civil disobedience. There were many acts of vandalism and several resources were damaged. Those of us living in the parks continued to assist in search and rescue situations even though those who needed help were on park grounds illegally and we were not getting paid. I understood why people were angry, but it was a huge slap in the face to those of us who worked so hard to protect and preserve these spaces. When people said there was no reason the parks should be closed I felt they didn’t understand how hard it is to actually maintain access to and protect wild spaces in this day and age. I had already received a notice from my employer declaring me non-essential, and here the public was agreeing.
When the park did reopen it was pretty quiet. All those who had been so enraged about not being able to come didn’t seem to want to come anymore… the first visitor I talked to on my first day back greeted me with a sarcastic ‘I hope you enjoyed your vacation.’ He didn’t mean it kindly. We took the brunt of a lot of anger. I left the NPS two weeks later.
I am not meaning for this to turn political, but I did want to share with you a message sent out by a NPS group I’m still a part of on social media. This time around the administration has decided that most parks will remain open during the shutdown, despite the halt of so-called ‘non-essential’ operations. This situation has gotten me all riled up with bad memories, and I’m really, really, feeling for my friends still wearing green and gray. The message they are trying to spread is this:
PSA (Please Read & Share):
We need your help. The Trump administration came up with a plan to leave our national parks open with little to no staff. This leaves our parks unprotected! We need your help to monitor our national treasures until the government reopens!
1) That those working who are in the National Parks today are without pay and without the promise of back pay. They are trying to keep visitors and resources safe.
2) If there are concessions employees they will most likely not have the answers to all your questions.
3) If you plan to visit the parks during the shutdown, or your friends or loved ones do, please have alternative ways to dispose of trash and human waste in case trash cans are full and bathrooms are locked.
4) Please be respectful of others in campgrounds who have reservations that are not being honored. Please plan ahead so that you will know how to enjoy and respect the resource without feedback from rangers.
5) It is our right to respectfully document any resource degradation or other actions in this lapse.
6) Parks are open free, but this will leave them open to destruction and vandalism. There are very few rangers working to protect the lands.
7) If you see someone destroying the park please attempt to report it, take pictures, and document the situation.
Thanks for reading!