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With museums and parks closed during the government shutdown, vacations are being ruined

You may want to double-check your travel itinerary.

Snowy, unplowed roads have made Rocky Mountain National Park a dangerous spot for travelers.
Wikimedia Commons/Daniel Mayer (Mav)

As the government shutdown continues, travelers are being forced to amend their trips. Transportation Security Administration agents are calling in sick, creating long lines at airports. And even when travelers reach their destination, sightseeing might look a little different. Many museums and monuments aren’t allowing in visitors, and national parks across the country have closed parts or even all of their grounds.

There are 418 national park sites in the United States, which include monuments, trails, battlefields, seashores, and, of course, parks, and are popular draws for tourists from far and wide. Some states are paying to keep especially lucrative attractions open, such as Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in New York City. The state of Arizona has also decided to take over funding for the Grand Canyon with its Grand Canyon Protection Plan.

But many of the most iconic are closed in the face of the shutdown. In St. Louis, Missouri, the Gateway Arch is closed. In Charleston, South Carolina, Fort Sumter is no longer giving tours. And parks like Joshua Tree and Muir Woods in California have closed as well.

Alison Heis of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) told me over email that two Australians on their way to climb Mount Rainier found out about the shutdown mid-flight. Upon visiting the park, they realized they wouldn’t be able to do the hike. Eric Cox of Benbrook, Texas, said via email that he, his wife, and their two sons had planned to visit Bandelier National Park during their trip to Santa Fe to celebrate their 20th anniversary but couldn’t because of the shutdown. “It’s somewhere my wife and I have long wanted to visit,” he wrote.

Even though the government has decided to reopen the national park system using the fee money collected by national parks throughout the calendar year, some parks are still shutting at the discretion of park officials. And at the ones that aren’t completely closed, there is little staffing and visitor centers are not open. This lack of visitor resources has caused lots of confusion. In some parks, certain roads are closed but no one is there to tell travelers which ones.

While some visitors are canceling trips, others are taking more dangerous paths to experience parks. One disappointed Muir Woods tourist from Alabama told ABC she “might jump the fence and walk in” anyway. And in Big Bend National Park, visitor Josh Snider broke his leg 1.5 miles into a hike. Lucky for him, there was a family of four, one ranger, and another hiker nearby who were able to carry him to safety.

Many museums are also turning away tourists. In DC, all 19 Smithsonian institutions had to shut last week. The National Zoo’s popular panda cam is also not operating, but according to CNN, the zoo has promised to continue to feed and care for the animals. The Smithsonian’s museums in New York City will shut as well.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Slate reporter Aaron Mak talked to disappointed tourists he found wandering outside of closed DC museums. One traveler told Mak he came all the way from Argentina just to see the museums but now will probably just stay in his hotel room. Another woman with two toddlers drove 50 minutes from Virginia and paid for two-hour parking, just to find that all the museums were closed. “I feel so bad that I didn’t check the website,” she said. “I should have known that the government shutdown closes everything.”

Danielle Oteri hosts food tours around New York City and has hosted more than two dozen Australians over the past two weeks, she tells me via email. “It’s their summer holiday and the airlines have been offering particularly good deals,” she says.

Many of her international clients visit multiple cities in the Northeast, and while they may be pleased that the Statue of Liberty is still open, they have been restructuring or opting out of visiting DC, and Oteri has been consulting them on feasible alternatives. One family, in particular, was planning to go to DC for four days after leaving New York City. “I emailed them on the 4th when I learned that the museums had all shut down that day,” she says. “They said they were scrambling to find new plans. I suggested Philadelphia and they worked that in.” (Although the historic Liberty Bell is currently closed.)

And, of course, getting to any of these destinations may be harder than usual. At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, ABC News reported that both airport employees and flyers were confronted with “endless lines” on Sunday. At Terminal C, which houses Delta, passengers waited 90 minutes in security lines. A similar situation arose at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which was already dealing with a TSA agent shortage. Now, with additional agents calling in sick, lines have grown even longer.

So if you’re catching a flight anytime soon, be sure to leave your home a couple of hours early and double-check whether what you plan to visit is even open.

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