If there’s anything the shutdown of the federal government a month ago taught us is that people have very different views of what “essential services” are.
At the very least, we certainly were treated to the government’s definition of what doesn’t constitute an essential service. By the morning of Oct. 1, the day things reached critical mass in Washington, D.C., a lot of services that affect a lot of people — hunters and fishermen among us — were cut off. Roads into national parks and wildlife refuges and other federal lands were gated or chained. The employees of those entities — the park rangers and the people who helped you reserve your campsite — were sent home to wonder when their next paycheck might appear.
I understand that there’s plenty of blame being handed out for the situation, and I also understand that keeping national parks open and staffing them is on the bottom of the government totem pole compared to guarding against terrorists, making sure Social Security checks go out and taking care of military families. But the concept of being “non-essential” must certainly have been tough on the approximate 800,000 workers who were sent home.
And the tidal-wave effect on people not directly affected by the shutdown on furloughs may not yet be fully felt. National parks and wildlife refuges are the cornerstones to millions and millions of tourist dollars that dried up for businesses in those areas: restaurants, motels, gas stations, tackle shops and grocery stores, for example. That doesn’t take into account the effects of missed paychecks on those employees. How much, for example, were businesses along North Carolina’s Outer Banks affected when 136 employees of the National Park Service were furloughed? How many groceries went unpurchased in stores along those barrier islands? How much gasoline when unpurchased when rangers’ vehicles were parked?
Tourism promoters and the people who study these things are always talking about the “multiplier effect” of dollars that enter areas when people show up to attend boat shows, take fishing or hunting trips or just take some time off. When a huge outdoor show in Pennsylvania was cancelled this past winter because of a conflict between the show’s promoter and gun-rights advocates, the community reportedly missed out on an $11-million outpouring. Local businesses suffered. They didn’t have a dog in the fight, but they got bitten just the same.
While some government services might not be considered “essential,” it’s clear that, in many communities, the things the government indirectly brings to a local economy are extremely essential. While hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities might not seem “essential,” let’s hope we go a long time before seeing them shut down again.