Did you plan a trip before the shut down or perhaps are not sure if a location you are interested in visiting are impacted??
I recently had this very issue occur when taking a trip to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. I wasn’t aware if the site was a part of the shutdown and as I hadn’t ever really seen to many things to indicate if it was a state or federal entity I didn’t know what to expect until I actually arrived.
When reaching the entry point, a cattle guard entry signifying open range was free and clear for through traffic, as this is one of their major roads in the area however I wasn’t expecting anything different. I did not actually see the results of the impact of the shut down until pulling up to the roadway to Mount Scott, the highest point in the park.
Typically tourists and those seeking adventures can travel up a roadway approximately 3.25 miles to the summit of the peak where they can take in the best views of the area, hike on various paths and rock scramble. However, the gate to this roadway was closed and locked and indication of access being only available to those who are willing to hike or bike was available.
So in response to the most frequently asked question: Area government maintained parks open during the shutdown? Yes, they are open, however with no patrols, rangers or services the parks are open on a limited basis.
I met a group of volunteers along my hike to the summit coming down the mountain with large bags of trash they had collected. They were the only form of trash collection available during the shutdown and were only there on a volunteer basis about once a week. It was astounding how much trash they were removing, considering there was such limited access to the summit.
So this brings to attention what should we remember when traveling to one of these sites during the shutdown?
While many parks still have restrooms open with the common understanding that they will remain open until they become “unkept” in appearance, some are closed and locked during this time. If you are visiting a park where restrooms are not accessible, you will need to have a plan.
Various options are available including traveling with a portable toilet option in larger vehicles which can be dumped at another location or the traditional method of using the world as your toilet and then burying your waste. If you do choose to exercise the latter make sure you packet your waste trash instead of burying it unless you are using a biodegradable paper option which has a rapid breakdown.
Much like the volunteers I encountered, each time you visit the parks effected you should be willing in some way to contribute to the greater good to make sure that others can use the facility and enjoy it as you have.
The best way to do this is to pick up trash you see around you when hiking. This simple task can make the world around us better at any time, but during this crucial time it can really make all the difference. Another way we can make a difference is by leaving items for others to use in facilities. If you visit parks where restrooms are still open, leave a roll or pack of toilet paper, a soap for the sink or simply clean up when you visit.
Leave No Trace
Important always, it is something that is camping and hiking 101, leave it better than you found it. Simple as it sounds however all to often this is a neglected train of thought in the great outdoors. If you bring it in, simply take it back with you in all regards. While it might be fun to make your mark by tying that little string in the bushes, it can later become something which could damage the ecosystem around you. When hiking, it might seem like a lot to have that extra dry pack with your garbage including old propane containers, but again if you are willing to bring it you have to be willing to take it with you.
One of the most concerning stories I have heard when traveling were Park Rangers saying that through hikers so often would leave discarded items tied in trees deigned for keeping items away from bears. This was all to often along the APT especially.
Do Not Vandalize & Report Those Who Do
This might seem like the most obvious of the rules, but during times of shutdown when there is no accountability to many lawlessness seems to break out and with that an influx of “tagging” and vandalizing seems to happen. If you happen to be out and witness something like this you can still report it to local authorities and law enforcement. While typically rangers take care of this, law enforcement will step in to do so during these times.
Avoid Hikes Which Typically Require Permits
Yes, it might seem like a great idea to go out on those hikes you usually would be waiting months to get approval to do so, but this is not the time to tackle those hikes. A permit is usually required on these for accountability and safety, avoiding this process, while it might seem convenient to you, can also be very dangerous. Permits are issued based on time of year and safety, they also are used to track that you make it both in and out in the estimated time frame, otherwise a search party is sent in for you. By avoiding this process and taking advantage, you are literally placing your safety entirely in your own hands.
Pack Everything You Will Need
Being alone on a trail that is not patrolled can hold many risks. When traveling in general you should always be prepared, but even more so when hiking during the shutdown. If you happen to have an emergency and are unable to get assistance you will want to have enough supplies to sustain yourself until you can be found by another person also hiking in the area. For this reason pack a slightly larger bag than typical and load it down with water, food, an emergency blanket, emergency radio, water filter, hand warmers and a knife suited for bushcraft.
I found that my Lonestar 30 Daypack by Gossamer Gear came in handy for just that when I was at Mount Scott. I was able to pack it down with additional supplies just in case. I found that while I had a bit of extra weight that it was well worth it while traversing the rocky crag at the top of the peak using the items to maintain warmth and provide nutrients to replenish those used in the trek in the frigid January air.