UPDATED: The federal government shutdown has, not surprisingly, closed national parks. There is some talk of possibly reopening them, but I doubt anyone’s holding out much hope that will happen soon.
Here in Wisconsin, the shutdown has also unfortunately put the brakes on building and maintaining the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. A majority of the thousands of hours spent on the trail is done by volunteers (i.e. non-federal employees), but their participation is covered by liability insurance provided by the federal government. And that coverage is currently unavailable.
Mike Wollmer, executive director of the Ice Age Trail Alliance, explains in an October 1 press release:
“As part of the shutdown of the federal government, the National Park Service’s Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program is currently suspended. This program provides important medical and liability coverage to those volunteering on (or on behalf of) the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. A lack of this coverage exposes volunteers to the responsibility associated with tort claims and medical costs that could result from any injury or accident that occurs while volunteering.”
The suspension of the VIP program will not require the cancellation of group hikes or educational programs nor will it prevent the IATA administration from meeting and carrying out its duties.
Trail building, maintenance and stewardship duties are suspended, however. “Volunteers may resume these activities once the shutdown ends and the VIP program resumes,” Wollmer wrote.
The IATA Mobile Skills Crew had work days scheduled this month for segments of the trail in Polk and Columbia counties. Hopefully Washington can get its act together soon, restore a functioning government and release many of our most valued trail builders back out on the landscape.