Story by Sam Walker, WOBX
UPDATED, SATURDAY 9:15 p.m.: The U.S. House and Senate have approved a continuing resolution that funds federal government operations through November 17.
That puts on hold a potential closure of the three national parks located on the Outer Banks.
The U.S. Department of Interior has announced that if a federal government shutdown proceeds, the majority of national parks will close to visitor access.
That includes the Outer Banks Group parks of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
Current funding for the federal government will end at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday. But according to the National Park Service contingency plan, operations would continue as normal on Sunday.
“To allow for orderly closures, routine visitor services may continue to be provided through the use of available non-lapsing appropriations under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) for a 24-hour period.
Beginning Monday, October 2, 2023, NPS will execute its orderly closure and service curtailment directives. Sites will generally be closed and areas that remain accessible to the public will face significantly reduced services.”
That means gates will be locked, roads, campgrounds, visitor centers, restroom facilities will be closed, and thousands of park rangers and staff will be furloughed.
Only a skeleton crew of National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers will remain on duty to cover areas that stretch from Kill Devil Hills to Roanoke Island, and from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet.
Park roads to the Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island lighthouses, beach access parking areas and off-road vehicle ramps were blocked. The First Flight, Billy Mitchell and Ocracoke airstrips were also shut down.
That closure spurred a protest in Buxton, with 100 to 150 people marching from N.C. 12 to the old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse site.
The 16-day 2013 shutdown resulted in an estimated loss of $2.4 million to the Outer Banks economy alone, according to a 2014 NPS report cited by the Congressional Research Service.
In 2018 and 2019, under President Donald Trump’s administration, most parks remained at least partially open with services reduced. In part, that approach relied on visitor fees, which an independent federal oversight agency said was likely illegal.
That shutdown lasted 35 days and was over December and January, when visitor levels are usually at their lowest. 7 to 10 staff members (mainly law enforcement rangers) of the Park Service’s 90 total employees in the Outer Banks Group were working intermittently, while all other personnel were furloughed.
It was marked by vandalism and trash piling up at parks across the country, as well as incidents of people illegally driving on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches, illegal camping on the beach, and isolated damage to facilities.
“The public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety,” the Department of Interior said.
One key point in the news release states that “concessions located in areas that are accessible to the public may continue to operate during a lapse in appropriations if no NPS resources are required to support concession operations beyond excepted services and critical health, safety and protection services.”
That language would indicate the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center and Avon Pier would be allowed to stay open, unlike 10 years ago when they were ordered to close at the beginning of that shutdown.
Both were allowed to reopen just days prior to Congress and the Obama Administration reaching a funding agreement.
“The park superintendent will make a determination, on a case-by-case basis…whether a commercial, concession, and/or partnership facility may remain open or its operations continued during a lapse in appropriations,” according to the plan.
Details about the plans from Outer Banks Group had not been announced as of early Saturday.
This is a developing story, stay with WOBX for updates on the status of access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Wright Brothers National Monument and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.