ASSATEAGUE — With the federal government shutdown entering its second week, the Obama administration last week announced it would allow the national parks to reopen if the individual states paid for the costs, but no changes are expected at Assateague Island National Seashore.
The country’s 400 national parks have been closed for two weeks now after the federal government shut down on Oct. 1, causing economic hardship in many states, particularly those out west, that depend on a strong fall tourism season generated by its parks in places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, for example. Last week, the federal government announced it would allow national parks and historic sites to reopen if the states paid for the operating costs and some states have already jumped at the chance.
Maryland has a number of national parks and historic sites operated by the federal government, including Assateague Island National Seashore. However, with many alternatives available to state residents and visitors, Maryland is not jumping at the chance to open its national parks, including Assateague, on its own dime.
“We are not considering opening national historic sites in Maryland,” said Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) spokesperson Samantha Kappalman this week. “We are fortunate in Maryland to be home to many wonderful places to visit like the aquarium, the science center and our 66 state parks.”
It would not make sense for the state to foot the bill to reopen Assateague Island National Seashore for a variety of reasons. For example, the state owns and operates Assateague State Park which shares the barrier island and offers alternatives to residents and visitors. Obviously, in the middle of October, there is no rush to reopen the national seashore, particularly with a stalled low pressure system driving rain and high winds off the mid-Atlantic coast for nearly a week.
While Maryland is not considering reopening its national parks and historic sites, some states have already jumped at the chance. For example, Arizona is spending $93,000 per day to keep the Grand Canyon open. The Grand Canyon attracts an average of 18,000 visitors each day and contributes about $1 million per day to the local economy. Closer to home, New York is now paying over $61,000 per day to reopen the Statue of Liberty to visitors.
The Department of the Interior has already announced it has no plans to reimburse the states. However, several members of Congress on Friday introduced legislation to eventually refund the money.
It’s important to note despite the time of year and the recent run of bad weather, the closure of the Assateague Island National Seashore is already having an impact locally. Last week, for example, the Ocean City Mayor and Council approved an emergency measure allowing the resort to host a major surf fishing tournament originally slated for Assateague this weekend.
Ocean City officials agreed to open the resort’s beaches to the Assateague Mobile Sportfishermen’s Association (AMSA) surf fishing tournament on Saturday and Sunday as a back-up plan if the federal government shutdown is not resolved before the weekend.
With no measurable progress on the impasse, it appears the shutdown will continue late into this week and will likely move the tournament over to Ocean City on Saturday and Sunday from the Delaware line south. Ironically, there was an intense debate late this summer over the issue of opening up the resort’s beaches to surf fishing and other vehicle traffic in the offseason.