Whatever loathing voters feel toward Washington, D.C., this week, it is a fair bet they make an exception for America’s national parks — immortalized by Ken Burns in the miniseries “America’s Best Idea.’’ So it is ironic that one of the worst casualties of the government shutdown is the National Park Service, which administers 401 national parks, monuments, and iconic places across the country.
October is a popular time for the parks. Normally some 700,000 visitors pour into the parks every day, primarily to see the foliage. Fish are spawning, bears are fattening up, birds are migrating. But the National Park Service is responsible for all the utilities, fire protection, emergency services, and other infrastructure in its parks, so all the campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, and other commercial activities within the parks are now closed. That in turn hits the surrounding gateway communities, where the local economy is dependent on small businesses that cater to tourists, such as tour guides, outdoor recreation shops, motels, and small eateries. Much of their annual revenue is generated at this time of the year. The timing could hardly be worse for damaging the US economy.