ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, VA (WHSV) — With part of the government shutdown, there is no one at the entrances to Shenandoah National Park, meaning cars can enter the park for free — but this is bad news for a park that relies on the entry fees for maintenance.
In September, park officials told WHSV that the maintenance backlog was around $79 million. Shenandoah National Park is able to keep 80 percent of the entry fee, and it uses 55 percent of that to work on deferred maintenance projects.
One person visiting the park on Thursday says she had mixed feelings about entering the park for free.
"It was nice for us that it was free, but I wish there was a small way we could have given back to the park because it's giving us this experience that we wouldn't get anywhere else," said Liz Serviss, who was visiting from New Jersey. "So I think we're all a little bit frustrated."
Serviss was upset about the backlog and shocked by the $79 million deficit. She was also upset for park employees who are out of work until the shutdown ends.
"It's hugely effective to all of those people who only can support their livelihood and the livelihoods of their loved ones by being here," Serviss said.
Sen. Mark Warner expressing his opinion about free entry to national parks, tweeting: “This is not good for our national parks, which are already facing a massive maintenance backlog. It’s past the time to end the shutdown and #RestoreOurParks.”
As people continue to enter the park for free, Shenandoah National Park is losing money that could go toward maintenance, and park projects continue to be put off — adding to the needed maintenance.
The south end of the park, from Swift Run Gap near Elkton to Rock Fish Gap near Waynesboro, remains closed from ice damage that happened last November.