U.S. House Democrats are holding a hearing Wednesday to look at how the Interior Department paid to keep national parks open during the partial government shutdown.
The Trump administration is the first in recent memory to use visitor fees to keep gates open, roads cleared and garbage cleaned at the most popular national parks during a shutdown.
Critics, including former Obama-era National Park Service director Jon Jarvis, saw this as a political move to lessen the shutdown’s impact on the American public.
Many congressional Democrats have expressed frustration about the move to reallocate the fees, which usually go toward things like building walking paths and other long-term maintenance projects.
“It is clearly not the intent of how those fees were to be used,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), chair of the U.S. House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which decides how funds are used in the parks.
McCollum said visitor fees are made up of a mix of entrance, campground and parking fees along with a dose of private money raised by park conservation groups.
“They are [for a] very specific use,” she said. “It’s not general obligation funds for employees or routine maintenance.”
The subcommittee has invited a former parks superintendent, a representative from the Government Accountability Office, and a representative from the left-leaning Center For American Progress to testify at the hearing.
A spokesperson for the National Park Service said the Interior Department determined that using the funds to keep parks open was appropriate.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.