Video: National parks face shutdown

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updated 4/8/2011 12:29:48 PM ET 2011-04-08T16:29:48

The looming shutdown of the federal government includes the National Parks Service, which could mean events commemorating the start of the Civil War with a Confederate attack on Fort Sumter may have to happen without the fort itself.

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A shutdown would also affect trips to the nation's capital, where the Smithsonian and the National Zoo would be among the first to close, and could cause spring break campers out West to find Yosemite and other parks closed.

If lawmakers can't reach agreement, the National Park Service ceases operations at midnight Friday, shuttering Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor just days before events marking the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the war. The Union garrison on the island surrendered after a Confederate bombardment on April 12, 1861.

"It's a very special event and it would be very sad if something like that happened," said Chris Kimmel of Harrisburg, Pa., who visited the fort Wednesday as a chaperone with a group of high school students from another town tied to the war, Gettysburg, Pa.

Events for the anniversary have been planned for years. Hundreds of Union and Confederate re-enactors plan to stay in Forts Sumter and Moultrie, another Park Service site across the harbor, during a week of events.

If there is a shutdown, plans will move forward to re-enact the bombardment Tuesday with about 30 cannons ringing the harbor from sites not on federal land.

"I'm shocked. This is a pivotal event in the nation's history," said Jeff Antley, who is coordinating arrangements for an estimated 1,000 re-enactors coming to the city. "You can't say we're going to reschedule for May. The money has been spent. The uniforms have been bought. The travel arrangements have been made."

Story: Budget deal reached, government shutdown averted

Museums, parks could close
If the federal government shuts down, then all 394 National Park Service sites would be closed and about 20,000 park service employees would be idled, said David Barna, agency spokesman in Washington. Fifteen-thousand concession employees who run hotels, restaurants and gift shops would likely be idled as well.

In April, about 800,000 people visit national park sites each day and those visitors spend $32 million a day, giving a boost to local economies, he said.

Kate Gibbs, a spokeswoman for a group that promotes tourism in the nation's capital, said the National Mall will remain open, although the world-class Smithsonian museums would go dark.

"What we might stand to lose is the National Park Service expert who can add that ounce of magic by saying, 'You're standing where Martin Luther King stood when he delivered the "I have a dream" speech,'" said Gibbs, of Destination DC.

It's a busy time for Washington. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which draws about 1 million visitors each spring, is finishing up this weekend, though it wasn't clear how a government shutdown would affect events.

Image: Yosemite National Park
BEN MARGOT  /  AP
A view of Half Dome from the valley floor of Yosemite National Park is shown in this Oct. 20, 1997, file photo in Yosemite, Calif. If lawmakers can't reach an agreement by midnight Friday, national parks and museums would close.

At Yosemite National Park in California, students on spring break flock to the majestic mountains this time of year to see waterfalls swollen by winter rains, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

Any shutdown, he said, would be done in phases.

"It's such a complicated place with campgrounds, trails, hotels, tour buses," Gediman said. "It's not as simple as we close the gate and everybody goes home."

About 1,000 workers employed by a company that runs park services as well as about 800 park workers would be affected. Business outside the gates would also suffer.

"We really don't have a whole lot of industry other than tourism," said Lester Bridges, president of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce.

Story: White House says shutdown will delay pay to troops

Financial hit for businesses
If there has to be a shutdown, April is the best time of year for Yellowstone National Park, where snow is forecast for the next several days.

For much of the month, only a few hardcore visitors enter the park, usually weekend warriors looking to spy on wolves in the Lamar Valley, bicycle a plowed road or ski or snowshoe.

The park had about 33,000 visitors last April. "That's about a day during our peak summer months," park spokesman Al Nash said.

A closure could set preparations back for the busy summer season. About 300 miles of road are being plowed while hotels, stores and park facilities have to be opened, and water and sewer systems have to be readied.

"If the park doesn't open on time, it's definitely going to be a financial hit for businesses that already struggle with a highly seasonal economy," said Bill Berg, president of the chamber of commerce in Gardiner, Mont., just outside the park's north entrance.

Anna Holloway runs the Tumbleweed Café and Bookstore in Gardiner. Holloway has a hard time believing that a government shutdown will happen, but things would be grim if it does — and lasts into summer.

"My business would go under and I would lose it all," she said.

Associated Press writers Beth Harpaz in New York; Matt Volz in Helena, Mont.; Gosia Wozniacka in Fresno, Cal.; and Brett Zongker in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: America's national parks

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  1. Acadia

    Acadia National Park in Maine boasts the highest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and was the first national park east of the Mississippi River. Visitors beware: temperatures can vary 40 degrees -- from 45 degrees to 85 degrees in the summer and from 30 degrees to 70 degrees in the spring and fall. (Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Rocky Mountain

    Bear Lake, with mountainside aspens changing colors in mid-autumn, is one of the popular attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Badlands

    The climate in South Dakota's Badlands National Park is extreme. Temperatures range from minus 40 degrees in the dead of winter to 116 degrees in the height of summer. Visitors are drawn to the park's rugged beauty as well as the area's rich fossil beds. (Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Yosemite

    One of the nation's first wilderness parks, Yosemite is known for its waterfalls, scenic valleys, meadows and giant sequoias. (Robert Galbraith / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. North Cascades National Park

    The North Cascades National Park complex offers something for everyone: Monstrous peaks, deep valleys, hundreds of glaciers and phenominal waterfalls. The complex includes the park, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Zion

    This spectacular corner of southern Utah is a masterpiece of towering cliffs, deep red canyons, mesas, buttes and massive monoliths. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Redwood

    Created in 1968, Redwood National Park is located in Northern California. Today, visitors to the national park can enjoy the massive trees as well as an array of wildlife. (David Gotisha / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Joshua Tree

    Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeast California. The area was made a national monument in 1936 and a national park in 1994. Outdoor enthusiasts can go hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Great Smoky Mountains

    Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 800 square miles in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Visitors can expect mild winters and hot, humid summers, though temperatures can differ drastically as the park's elevation ranges from 800 feet to more than 6,600 feet. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Arches

    More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, many of them recognizable worldwide, are preserved in Utah's Arches National Park. Temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer and can drop to below freezing in the winter. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Grand Teton

    The Snake River flows through Grand Teton National Park, and the jagged Teton Range rises above the sage-covered valley floor. Daytime temperatures during summer months are frequently in the 70s and 80s, and afternoon thunderstorms are common. (Anthony P. Bolante / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Haleakala

    Visitors watch the sun rise at 10,000 feet in Haleakala National Park in Maui, Hawaii. If weather permits, visitors at the top of the mountain can see three other Hawaiian islands. (The Washington Post via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Grand Canyon

    Grand Canyon National Park is perhaps the most recognizable national park. Nearly 5 million visitors view the mile-deep gorge every year, formed in part by erosion from the Colorado River. The North and South rims are separated by a 10-mile-wide canyon. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Yellowstone

    Yellowstone National Park, America's first national park, was established in 1872. The park spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk live in the park. It is well known for Old Faithful and other geothermal features. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Mount Rainier

    Glaciers. Rainforests. Hiking trails. Mount Rainier National Park, located in Washington state, offers incredible scenery and a diverse ecology. The park aims to be carbon neutral by 2016. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Hawaii Volcanoes

    Two of the world's most active volcanoes can be found within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. In 1980, the national park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve; in 1987, it was added as a World Heritage Site. (David Jordan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Everglades

    Everglades National Park covers the nation's largest subtropical wilderness. It is also a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve and a Wetland of International Importance. Visitors to the park can camp, boat, hike and find many other ways to enjoy the outdoors. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Glacier

    A view from atop the Grinnell Glacier Overlook trail in Glacier National Park. With more than 700 miles of trails the park is known for its glaciers, forests, alpine meadows and beautiful lakes. (Matt McKnight / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Bryce Canyon

    Located in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its distinctive geological structures called "hoodoos." (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Crater Lake

    The brilliant blue Crater Lake, located in southern Oregon, was formed when Mount Mazama, standing at 12,000 feet, collapsed 7,700 years ago after a massive eruption. Crater Lake is one of the world's deepest lakes at 1,943 feet. (David Gotisha / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Olympic

    Washington state's Olympic National Park offers visitors beaches on the Pacific Ocean, glacier-capped mountain peaks and everything in between. Keep the weather in mind when visiting, though, as roads and facilities can be affected by wind, rain and snow any time of year. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Sequoia and Kings Canyon

    A woman stands among a grove of a Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park in Central California. The trees, which are native to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, are the world's largest by volume, reaching heights of 275 feet and a ground level girth of 109 feet. The oldest known Giant Sequoia based on its ring count is 3,500 years old. (Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Denali

    Alaska's Denali National Park spans 6 million acres and includes the 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak. Many park visitors try to catch a glimpse of the "big five" -- moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bear. (National Park Service) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Kenai Fjords National Park

    The National Park Service considers the 8.2-mile round-trip on Harding Icefield Trail in Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park to be strenuous, saying hikers gain about 1,000 feet of elevation with each mile. (National Park Service via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Death Valley

    California's Death Valley encompasses more than 3.3 million acres of desert wilderness. In 1849, a group of gold rush pioneers entered the Valley, thinking it was a shortcut to California. After barely surviving the trek across the area, they named the spot "Death Valley." In the 1880s, native peoples were pushed out by mining companies who sought the riches of gold, silver, and borax. (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Wind Cave

    Bison graze in Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. Millions of bison were slaughtered by white hunters who pushed them to near-extinction by the late 1800s. Recovery programs have brought the bison numbers up to nearly 250,000. (David McNew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Canyonlands

    The Lower Basins Zone is outlined by the white rim edge as seen from the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah. (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Shenandoah

    Fall colors blanket the Shenandoah National Park, drawing tourists to Skyline Drive to view the scenery. (Karen Bleier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Gareth Mccormack / Lonely Planet Images
    Above: Slideshow (28) America's national parks
  2. Image:
    Stephen Saks / Lonely Planet Images
    Slideshow (18) America’s lesser-known national parks

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