Partners work to reduce impacts of government shutdown on Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park in winter. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
Voyageurs National Park in winter. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)

With the federal government partial shutdown in its fourth week, the National Park Service is unable to perform most of its duties in Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. The park’s partners at Voyageurs National Park Association (VNPA) are trying to help.

The park is still accessible, but few services are provided. While about a third of America’s national parks are closed completely during the shutdown, Voyageurs has little ability to control access. But there are limited emergency and rescue services, and no National Park Service-provided visitor services. Restrooms are closed, trash is not being collected, and no plowing or trail grooming is being performed, with one exception.

This week, VNPA announced it would provide a short-term grant to bring back a limited number of park staff, who will groom ski trails, open the Rainy Lake Visitor Center on the weekend, assess ice conditions, and groom the Green Trail for snowmobiles.

Despite VNPA’s efforts, the group said nothing can replace the park’s staff and regular funding. They also pointed out that the park’s are already suffering from budget cuts.

“Even if Voyageurs is technically still accessible, a government shutdown is never good news for our national parks,” said Christina Hausman, VNPA’s executive director. “Voyageurs and all our parks are under-funded and under-staffed already. It’s frustrating to see Park Service staff dealing with income uncertainty. We need them; there’s a lot of work to be done, not only to preserve places like Voyageurs but to ensure public safety.”

Because of VNPA’s efforts, the Rainy Lake Visitor Center will be open this weekend, Saturday, January 12 and Sunday, January 13 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free cross-country ski or snowshoe rentals will be available, and hot chocolate will be served.

One task critical for the safety of park visitors during the shutdown was performed with special permission: A small crew was allowed to assess the ice conditions and stake a key snowmobile trail. The work was performed on Dec. 29 and 30 on the Green Trail, which connects Frank’s Bay on Rainy Lake to Crane Lake. Caution is still advised when using the trail, because ice conditions change frequently, and pressure ridges may have formed.

VNPA is providing updates on the shutdown at Voyageurs National Park at https://www.voyageurs.org/shutdown.

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