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Government Shutdown Starts to Affect National Parks and Museums

Smithsonian sites poised to close as some states step in to keep Grand Canyon and other parks open

A park outside of Boston with a sign saying it's closed.


A sign lets people know the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston is closed due to the government shutdown.

En español | As the partial federal government shutdown entered its second week, essential services such as mail delivery, air travel, Social Security benefits and Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals will remain unaffected. But popular destinations, such as the Smithsonian museums and national parks, are making choices about if and how they can stay open without federal funding.

The partial shutdown began on Saturday, Dec. 22, because nine departments did not have money to continue to operate. The agencies affected are the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development. Although those departments technically are not funded, more than 400,000 workers will continue on the job — without being paid. (In previous shutdowns they have been paid for their time once normal operations resume.) They will provide law enforcement, air traffic control and other services the government deems essential.

The agencies that manage Social Security and Medicare are funded and are not affected by the shutdown, so Social Security payments to retirees, individuals with disabilities and other beneficiaries will continue, and Medicare beneficiaries will still be able to get health care services. Veterans’ health care, vital food inspections and National Weather Service forecasting also will continue. The U.S. Postal Service is an independent organization and mail service will not be affected. People who receive the SNAP nutrition program benefits have received their January payments, even though the Department of Agriculture manages that program. 

But while the Smithsonian Institution had enough unspent money to keep its museums and galleries open through New Year’s Day, those facilities in Washington, D.C. will begin to close on Jan. 2. Those include popular sites such as the National Zoo, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of Natural History. The National Gallery of Art, which is not part of the Smithsonian Institution, will close starting Jan. 3. That includes the ice rink in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.

The situations at national parks vary depending on where the park is located. According to the National Park Service, while some parks might still be accessible to visitors, no visitor services will be provided. That includes snow removal from roads and keeping restrooms, shops and other amenities open. Contact individual parks or check online for more information regarding any site you may want to visit. To reschedule camping reservations, call 800-365-2267. 

However, some states have intervened to keep their national parks operational. For example, in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey says that Arizona will pay to keep the Grand Canyon open for visitors. The state of Utah has announced that it will fund visitors centers and essential custodial services at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks during the shutdown. And, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the state will pay to keep the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island open throughout the shutdown.

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