As Columbus Day weekend approaches and New England fall foliage reaches its peak, the U.S. Forest Service has decreed that 22 privately run campgrounds in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest will have to close because of the government shutdown.
According to the Union Leader, while the campsites are situated on federally owned land, they are entirely run by a private company, which has a contract to operate the sites and which pays the federal government a cut of the fees it collects. That means the closure will not only prevent thousands of campers from using the facilities, it will actually cost the federal government money it would have collected if it had simply done nothing.
Kent Tower, the president of the company that runs the campsites, told the Union Leader that the federal government does not contribute anything to running or staffing the sites. “We pay all the maintenance, all the upkeep, all the help, all the insurance,” he said. “All the trucks, all the equipment is ours. They have nothing to do with it.”
During past government shutdowns, even while other national parks were closed, these sites stayed open. Marily Reese, the executive director of the National Forest Recreation Association, was told that this time around, the Obama administration decided to close all federal land “because of consistency.” Members of her association, who operate similar facilities on federal land across the country, have been receiving calls from administration officials warning them that they have 48 hours to close down. Reese has been advising them to remain open until they are notified in writing, since the instructions amount to a legal change in their contracts.
According to Tower, the Forest Service is acting reluctantly. “Someone above the Forest Service told them to do it,” he told the Union Leader. “Basically, it’s a power move.”