The federal government has been shut down for one week today. This isn’t a political blog, so I won’t be sharing my opinions of who is in the right and who is in the wrong. I’m also not going to to get into some of the really dire consequences of of the shutdown – like WIC running out of money or military families not receiving death benefits. However, I do want to discuss how the shutdown has affected history and nature sites around the country. There have already been some interesting stories about how these closures have effected people at major landmarks like the WWII Memorial in DC, Yosemite Park in California (which missed its birthday!) and the Statue of Liberty in New York. But it isn’t just these big name places that are closed. The National Parks Service runs many parks all over the nation, as well as a number of smaller national historic sites. Presidential libraries and museums are closed as well, because they are a part of the National Archives. Other public lands such as National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges are affected, with many people forced out of campgrounds and programs cancelled. These closures are preventing people from enjoying the great things the state of Michigan has to offer, from stunning vistas to libraries. I know this is a bit of a different kind of post than I’ve done on Mitten History in the past, but I really wanted to compile a list of all the sites in Michigan that you cannot currently visit (or only visit in a limited capacity). Michigan has its own big name site (Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear), but I wanted to also highlight the smaller sites that are closed, and show just how far-reaching the shutdown is. And maybe it will inspire someone to plan a trip to one of these attractions once they open back up – I know I’ve been meaning to check out the River Raisin National Battlefield Park for a while, and making this list is reminding me I need to plan a visit. If I’ve missed any parks, museums, or monuments that are currently closed, please let me know.
1) Isle Royal National Park – Michigan’s only national park, Isle Royal was set to close for the season in late October. Now, rangers had to hurry out campers and hikers and start shutdown procedures two weeks early. Closing up the park for the winter requires more than just sending everyone home – water needs to be removed from the water lines, the boats need to be taken in, and buildings need to be winterized. With most employees being sent home on furlough, the end of season procedure will be much more difficult.
2) Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire – 60 staffers sent home and 90 campsites were emptied as rangers had to spread out across the site letting people know the bad news. Staffers said the park typically gets 2,300 visitors a day in October. Before the shutdown, they worked hard to get the word out via physical signs as well as social media, hoping too many people wouldn’t show up just to be disappointed. The park visitor center and the nearby U.S. Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum are both unaffected, as they closed for the season on Labor Day
3) Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising – Pictures Rocks is one of Michigan’s most popular sites, and it is hitting its peak color right about now, drawing in hoards of visitors. Except those visitors are being turned away, and they are not happy about it. Many people are simply moving barriers out of the way to get into the park, which is really not a great idea. You can still view the by taking a boat tour with one of the private companies that do tours on Lake Superior.
4) River Raisin National Battlefield Park, Monroe – Michigan’s newest national park and the only park commemorating the War of 1812, the River Raisin site closure has halted local school field trips as well as a bicentennial commemoration of the Battle of the Thames and the death of Tecumseh. Park Supervisor Scott Bentley said that the shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time.
5) Keweenaw National Historic Park, Calumet – Established in 1992, the Keweenaw park is a partnership site, which means it is operated by a combination of federal and private entities. The park has two main “units,” the Calumet Unit and the Quincy Unit, as well as a multiple cooperative private heritage sites in the area. Most of the sites relate to copper mining, the main industry in the region up through the mid 20th century, and ethnic heritage, particularly of the Cornish and Finnish people. Although early reports stated that the park would continue to give tours, on the morning of the shutdown park superintendent Mike Pflaum said that all the government run sites would be closed, including the park headquarters, the Keeweenaw History Research Center and the Calumet Visitor Center. Although the privately owned sites can remain open, they will not be able to rely on the assistance typically provided by the NPS.
6) Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids – The museum is run by the National Archives, which has closed most of its facilities (with the exception of Federal Records Centers and the Federal Register). The museum is currently hosting multiple works of art as a part of the annual ArtPrize competition, including the winning piece. To accommodate people wanting to view the art, pieces that had previously been in the lobby were moved temporarily outside and the closed museum still managed to have a very busy weekend. (Random shutdown connection: the winning piece was an amazing quilt depicting Sleeping Bear Dunes)
7) Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor – The Ford library on the other side of the state in Ann Arbor. Although many people mistakenly think it is part of the University of Michigan, the library is also run by the National Archives, which means it is not open for the duration of the shutdown.
8) North Country National Scenic Trail – Like other national scenic trails around the U.S. (there are 11), the North County Trail goes over a combination of federal, state and private land. It goes through 7 states and has its headquarters in Lowell, Michigan. The cooperative nature of the plan makes its status during the shutdown a bit tricky – according to a statement released by the non-profit North Country Trail Association, hiking is still permitted in the trail, except on federal land. Also, the support provided by the NPS is gone, which shuts down the NPS Volunteer in Parks program and temporarily ends injury insurance and liability protection for volunteers working on the trail. Essentially, this means that although much of the trail is still open, no maintenance will be performed until the shutdown ends.
9) National Forests – Hiawatha, Ottawa, and Huron-Manistee: It is still possible to visit the forests, which are managed by the Forest Service, but federal facilities within them have been closed. I’ve read some conflicting reports on campgrounds in the national forests, but it looks like some closed and some stayed open. However, it looks like most were closing down for the season this week, making it a moot point now.
10) National Wildlife Refuges (Seney, Shiawassee and Detroit River International Refuge)- Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife refuges set aside public land to conserve plants and wildlife. Due to the government shutdown, all public access is closed and public programs are cancelled.
Honorary #11) The websites for most of these places. Because it costs money and time to maintain a web presence, most federal webpages open up to a simple notice stating that the site will be down for the duration of the shutdown. As a result, not only can’t you visit these places, but you also can’t learn more about them online. For that reason, many of the links in this post take you to other Wikipedia pages or private groups associated with the various sites.
I hope the shutdown ends soon, for many reasons. I hope it ends so that people can go back to work, so that people are not denied federal benefits, so that our elected leaders can start leading again, instead of fighting each other (well, that last one may not happen). But I also want it to end so that people can enjoy the natural beauty of our state and can visit sites that teach our great history. For an example, I leave you with this: