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Grant Whittington headshot

Apparel Brands Support National Parks as Shutdown Drags On

Zion National Park is currently open thanks in part to local officials in Utah

My girlfriend and I recently returned from what we thought would be a foolishly timed tour of three jaw-dropping and picturesque U.S. National Parks: Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. To travel across the country to these parks during a government shutdown, we heard time and time again, was a big mistake. Countless articles warned that the trash at the parks would be overflowing, the snow on the wintery southern Utah roads would be unplowed and that campgrounds and trails would not be policed. Even my father, a National Park enthusiast and self-proclaimed birdwatching and foraging expert, gave me the stern talk to be wary of the “crazies,” the same people who days before started chopping trees and vandalizing Joshua Tree National Park.

But what we found was different. We found park rangers staffing the gates for safety assurances but not charging because they couldn’t accept funds. We found park volunteers advising us not to hike an icy steep trail but instead hike where the sun shines and cacti flourish. And we found clean and fully operating restrooms, campgrounds, gift shops, visitor centers and buses. And to my great satisfaction, and to the park’s probable dismay, we found empty parks - we’d hike the most popular trails at the most popular times and cross paths with no more than 20 other “foolish” peers.

Companies join U.S. states to keep parks functioning

Utah and Arizona stepped up; they have funded (if not wholly then partially) their parks to keep their state’s tourism industry buzzing. But the state funds as well as private and nonprofit donations are not an endless stream of cash. As the record-setting government shutdown approaches a full month, park employees and volunteers are constantly wrestling to find every penny to keep the parks open, and most importantly, safe.

Criticism against the government shutdown’s effect on National Parks vamped up again this week when Columbia spent $80,000 on a full-page ad in the Washington Post with the not-so-subtle message:

Now brands are answering the call to step up and take a stand on U.S. national parks. Columbia joins outdoor apparel companies REI, The North Face and Patagonia in advocating for National Parks in the time of uncertainty. Going a step further, Columbia even channeled some messaging from The North Face’s social media campaign, which also highlighted the wall in its clever and poignant #WallsAreMeantforClimbing hashtag. The brand also launched a campaign calling for donations and respect of National Parks. REI recently announced the company would donate $250,000 for park restoration.

Patagonia has been quieter in its direct response to the government shutdown but has been an outspoken critic of President Trump’s environmental and federal land protecting policies. Last fall, the California-based outdoor apparel company donated $10 million of their tax credit to green groups, and launched a social media campaign with the powerful messaging “The President Stole Your Land” following Trump’s announcement to reduce the size of two national monuments.

The bottom line

The government closure has simply resulted in bad business for these companies as well as the small towns surrounding the parks that depend on tourism to support its local economy.

“Clearly, the outdoors is a huge part of our business,” Columbia CEO Tim Boyle told Oregon Live. “Parks in the U.S. are where people use our products. Parks are being damaged by people doing things they probably wouldn’t do if management were in place.”

Writer Jenni Gritters wrote an article on REI’s website detailing the struggles small park communities are enduring because of the shutdown. “This is so hard on the small communities that welcome recreationists and visitors to our parks,” Katherine Hollis, conservation and advocacy director for The Mountaineers, told Gritters.

Be sensible but be adventurous

To anyone hesitating on visiting a National Park due to the government shutdown, do a bit of research prior to embarking but go and enjoy the solitude of smaller crowds, snow-topped awe-inspiring mountains and never-ending canyons. The government may not be open, but the parks remain as beautiful as ever.

Image credit of Zion National Park: Al Hikes Az/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshot

Based in Atlanta, GA, Grant is a nonprofit professional and freelance writer passionate about affordable housing and finding sustainable approaches to international development. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

Read more stories by Grant Whittington