A report released Monday by the National Park Service highlighted the effects of last fall’s government shutdown. And there is more to it than the chest-thumping and name-calling we have become accustomed to in Congress. Outside of Washington, shutting down the government involves actual consequences and real pain for real people.
The report detailed how the shutdown affected the country’s national parks and visitor spending in communities within 60 miles of the parks during the October 2013 shutdown. It compared figures for the time the parks were shut down with averages during similar periods for the previous three years.
For Mesa Verde National Park alone, the report estimates the shutdown cost the park 30,000 visitors. That works out to an overall loss of about $3 million to the local economy.
Perhaps in Washington $3 million is thought to be no big deal. In Southwest Colorado, however, it is still real money. And it is money that local businesses could have used.
Last year, Mesa Verde and most other national parks were closed from Oct. 1 to 16. Nationwide, that led to 7.88 million fewer park visitors in October and an estimated loss of $414 million in spending in nearby towns. Even with that, it is impossible to know for certain how many would-be visitors changed plans or canceled visits, let alone how many dollars were involved.
What is clear is that in towns such as those in Southwest Colorado, motels, shops, restaurants and countless other businesses depend – directly or otherwise – on income from tourism and tourist-related activities. And while we all have become accustomed to threats from wildfire, weather and the occasional flood, dealing with nature is quite enough difficulty for most lives. We do not need problems brought on solely by politicians’ machinations and Washington egos.
That is, however, exactly what we got in October. For more than two weeks the federal government was closed for business – and for what? Although nominally about the spending limit and Obamacare, the entire exercise was little more than a schoolyard shoving match designed primarily to see who flinched first.
And while there may well have been – at least should have been – some political fallout, it was not the politicians who suffered financially. Rather, as the Park Service report shows, it was everyday Americans who paid the price – including those in the small businesses and small towns closest to our national parks. That is, firms and towns such as many of those in Southwest Colorado.
The voters do not deserve to be held hostage to Washington’s dysfunction. We can and should demand better than that.