Plan On Going to Big Bend National Park During the Government Shutdown? Here’s What You Need To Know

By Carlos Morales

The government shutdown won’t stop people from visiting any of the 16 sites managed by the National Park Service, but it might create some challenges.

In West Texas,  the shutdown means Big Bend National Park is only open during the day. All campgrounds have been closed. Several trails, including the popular Santa Elena Canyon trail, have also been closed.

Here are three things you need to know about visiting Big Bend National Park during the shutdown.

One: Don’t Plan on Camping Overnight

Right now, the park is open for day use only. That means you shouldn’t plan on camping overnight.

“Our campgrounds are all closed, and the backcountry is closed to overnight use,” said chief park ranger Lisa Hendy. “So basically there’s no place to stay overnight  in the park; it is not legal to stay the night in the park right now.”

Park rangers are patrolling the sprawling West Texas park to clamp down on visitors who camp in closed-off areas. Hendy says violators will be fined.

Two: Despite The Shutdown, Park Regulations Are Still In Effect

During the shutdown, the park has suspended all visitor services. That means among other things— all offices and contact stations are closed. Additionally, visitors can’t receive permits, trash won’t be collected and janitorial services have halted. 

But Hendy says that doesn’t mean staff isn’t showing up to work.

“Essentially, people are under the impression that no one is enforcing any of the rules, but that’s actually making our job a little harder because folks that don’t like to obey the rules are attracted during those situations.”

In order to find violators, Hendy said each morning a plane surveys the park to find where visitors have camped illegally.

“It’s pretty difficult to catch them preliminarily,” said Hendy. “We have our pilot in the air and he can call us out.”

Visitors who are caught violating park rules will receive citations. Hendy says campers who cause damage to the park’s resources can be fined several hundred dollars.

“We actually have many law enforcement rangers out on the road,” said Hendy. “It’s also a myth that we’re not out there.”

Three: Pick Up After Yourself

Because janitorial services have been suspended, a lot of the park bathrooms have been closed, which means people are having to pee in the desert.

“Which is fine, but when they leave their toilet paper all over it becomes unsanitary,” said Hendy.

If sanitation problems persist, Hendy said the park may have to close off more areas to visitors.

You can find a list of park closures here.

So far, Hendy said people who have visited the park during the shutdown have been respectful to the West Texas destination. And going forward, she said it’s “hard to anticipate” whether more closures in the park will happen, but added that park officials are working to keep “as much open as they can.”

About Carlos Morales

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director, Border and Immigration Reporter, and Morning Edition Host.
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