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Some national parks remain open during shutdown, others close

Partial government shutdown: Who's to blame?

Some national parks and historic sites across the U.S. will remain open as the partial government shutdown continues through Christmas. Others tourist sites, however, will remain closed until lawmakers broker a deal to reopen the government.

On Saturday, negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats hit an impasse over President Trump's $5 billion demand to fund the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate will technically hold a "pro forma" session Monday, but that is unlikely to yield anything — and negotiations will probably not resume until senators reconvene Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Statue of Liberty and Grand Canyon are open for business, and the government said other national parks "will remain as accessible as possible." 

At some parks, you're welcome to take a hike — but you're largely on your own. At others, like the closed Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, you're out of luck. And while the star-spangled banner yet waves at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the gates at the War of 1812 landmark are locked.

In Estes Park, Colorado, visitor centers were locked at Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday. Roads at the park were closed or unplowed because of the federal government shutdown. The park's gates were open, but staffing was cut back and roads were not being cleared of new snow.

"This is really disappointing," said Sarah Schlesinger of Boulder. Schlesinger went to the park with two nieces from Florida who had never seen snow before.

Government shutdown closes federal facilities.
The road leading into Rocky Mountain National Park is closed on January 22, 2018 in Estes Park, Colorado. Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty

Some attractions are staying open thanks to funding from states and charitable groups.

Utah's state government is paying to staff the visitor centers at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. Arizona is ponying up to keep trails, shuttles and restrooms open at the Grand Canyon. New York is footing the bill for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for the third time in five years.

"Many travelers have planned their visit for months in advance and have traveled from all over the world to be here," said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican. "We want them to return home with memories of magnificent vistas and welcoming people, not locked doors."

The shutdown is affecting nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, including Interior, which runs national parks, and Agriculture, which runs national forests. About 16,000 National Park Service employees — 80 percent of the agency's workforce — are being furloughed.

It's also closing some of the nation's presidential libraries.

The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, is closed, but the family gravesite — where the 41st president was recently buried — will stay open. George W. Bush's presidential library in Dallas is open, but archive services won't be available.

Temporary and permanent exhibits at the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, a top tourist attraction in Little Rock, Arkansas, are closed, but the restaurant is open and offering "Shutdown Specials."

At Acadia National Park in Maine, austerity measures include closing some bathrooms, curbing trash collection and cutting back on snowplowing. A lack of plowing could also hinder access to Crater Lake in Oregon, Mount Rainier in Washington and other parks normally inundated with snow this time of year.

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Hotels, restaurants, stores and gas stations at Yosemite National Park in California remain open and seem unaffected by the shutdown, which has canceled some programs, closed visitor centers and left campgrounds unstaffed.

"It's basically free to get in the park and people are coming and going as they please," said Jade Lezon, a cashier at the El Portal Market, near an entrance to the park. "It looks like summer today. Perfect weather for a government shutdown."

Superintendent Cassius Cash of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee said visitors should practice "leave no trace" principles to avoid fouling up the park when no visitor services are available. The holiday period is typically one of the park's busiest weeks, he said.

"During the government shutdown national parks will remain as accessible as possible," said National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum, noting that roads that have already been open will remain open and wilderness-type vault toilets are still available.

At Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, nonprofit organizations are teaming up to keep the visitor center open at the government-run USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial itself is closed until March for repairs to the loading dock, but visitors are still being taken on a narrated harbor tour of Battleship Row and the surrounding area.

Navy sailors operating the tour boats aren't affected by the shutdown.

At the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, it was business as usual after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said the state would fund operations, as it did when the federal government shutdown in 2013 and 2018. It'll cost the state about $65,000 per day, Cuomo said.

"Thanks to New York kicking in the funding!" said Steffen Manheim, a tourist from Maine.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey activated the state's Grand Canyon Protection Plan, which calls for the state to underwrite the cost of public safety and basic services at the desert treasure. Arizona developed the plan after it stepped in to fund operations during the last shutdown, 11 months ago.

"Regardless of what happens in Washington, the Grand Canyon will not close on our watch," said Ducey, a Republican. "If you have plans to visit the Grand Canyon over the weekend, keep 'em. The Grand Canyon will remain open."