Everything ‘Parks and Recreation’ got right about the plight of national parks during a government shutdown

The panic on Parks and Recreation seems all too real now. NBC/’Parks and Recreation’

  • “Parks and Recreation” released an episode about a government shutdown in 2010. Many of the jokes ring true during the current record-breaking US government shutdown.
  • In the episode – the finale of the second season – Tom Haverford considers getting a “temp job,” while Leslie Knope is concerned about sewage.
  • Similarly, federal parks employees in the US are currently worried about unemployment and unsanitary conditions at local parks.

When NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” debuted its season two finale in 2010, critics called it “smart, funny, crisply written, and poignant.” But the episode, which was about a government shutdown, was also prophetic.

In light of the ongoing government shutdown, now the longest in US history, we revisited the old episode to determine its accuracy.

As it turns out, there are quite a few similarities between the storyline and the current plight of federal park employees.

Read more:
9 amazing stories from the set of ‘Parks and Recreation’

Like many park rangers, members of the Pawnee parks department worry about finding a second job or tackling sewage issues. Others speculate that the shutdown could last for months.

Take a look at the show’s uncanny prophecies.

Andy: “How long is it going to last?” Ron: “Well, if we’re lucky, this building will be empty for months.”


Like Ron Swanson, we don’t know when national parks will return to regular functioning or re-open shuttered facilities and campgrounds. President Trump has suggested it could take “months or even years” for the government shutdown to end.

One of the controversies surrounding the current shutdown is that the Trump administration has elected to keep national parks open, but they lack enough staff to run normally.

So major national parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia, and Death Valley are still accessible to visitors, but have canceled certain services like bathroom cleaning and trash collection.

Ben: “I mean, Idaho cut their Parks Department by 80%, and Idaho is basically one giant park.”


An estimated 21,000 National Park Service (NPS) employees have been furloughed due to the shutdown. That’s around 87% of the department total – a number that’s oddly close to Ben Wyatt’s estimate.

The remaining 3,3000 or so NPS employees have stayed on to provide essential services such as law enforcement and emergency medical attention.

Leslie: “Children’s concerts aren’t a priority these days. You know what is? Sewage.”


Leslie Knope couldn’t have been more right: A major concern among politicians and public advocates is the large amount of human waste piling up in park restrooms.

At the beginning of January, Joshua Tree National Park closed its campgrounds due to “human waste in public areas.” Visitors have also ignored signs telling them not to use the bathroom at some parks in Oregon.

“There are piles of human sh-t everywhere,” a Yosemite National Park ranger said in a Facebook post, according to Outside Magazine. “Gross, but so seriously true.”

Leslie: “With all the parks closed, we’ve been going crazy.”


Business Insider spoke to park rangers about how the shutdown was affecting them and the parks where they work.

“Everybody’s really tired of riding the roller coaster,” said John Tillison, a retired park ranger with two decades of experience in the state of Washington. “There’s a lot of frustration, and rightfully so.”

A park employee in the southwest, who wished to remain anonymous so she could speak frankly, said: “My whole community is affected by this. It creates a lot of stressful decision-making and visitor confusion.”

Tom: “I might have to get a temp job.”


Tom Haverford might have used a government shutdown as an excuse to work on his cologne line, but for many real-life parks employees, the future seems daunting.

Gary Stellpflug, a park ranger at Acadia National Park, told Business Insider that he’s considering filing for unemployment. A few of his colleagues, he said, had already been forced to take second jobs.

Leslie: “It’s been three months of no work, no meetings, no memos, no late nights, nothing. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”


Multiple park rangers told Business Insider that they were eager to return to work.

“I really love my job and I would do everything I could to come back to it,” said the park worker in the southwest.

In an editorial for the Chicago Tribune, a park ranger at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area echoed this sentiment.

“None of us took our jobs to get rich,” she wrote. “We are public servants who love what we do. We are incredibly frustrated that we can’t do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.”

Ben: “Your only work for the time being will be existing park maintenance.”


Season three of “Parks and Recreation” begins with the shutdown over and the department forced to go into “maintenance mode.”

Tillison made a similar prediction to Business Insider, saying that parks employees would be tasked with picking up garbage and restoring filthy restrooms once they return to work.

“When this is all said and done,” he said, “the rangers are going to come back and have messes to clean up and resources to protect.”