The longest government shutdown in U.S. history has left hundreds of thousands of federal employees, including National Park Service personnel, out of work. This means that many of America’s public lands are ungated and largely unsupervised. Here’s more on how our National Parks are being trashed due to the government shutdown.
National Parks of Trash
Although visitors centers are closed and staffing is low, most National Park gates remain open, free of charge, and wildly unsupervised. People are flooding in recklessly, leaving the parks strewn with garbage and overflowing toilets.
The decision to keep parks open was part of a contingency plan set up last year. This plan basically allows for a small amount of staff to remain on the payroll, which was hoped to be enough. But unfortunately the limited staffing has proven to insufficient for how many people are visiting.
The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been worried about the contingency since it was introduced. It was known prior to the shutdown that the “skeleton staff” would be unable to provide the full park experience. For example, in some parks, certain roads are closed… but no one is there to tell visitors which ones.
Huge Loss in Revenue
On an average day in January, about 425,000 people visit the nation’s parks and spend nearly $20 million in the nearby communities. It has been estimated by the NPCA that the national parks have lost at least $5 million in revenue since the government shutdown.
“Instead of robbing from park funds, the president needs to work with Congress to fully reopen the federal government, including our national parks, and he should propose budgets that will authentically help operate parks and address their maintenance needs in the long-term. Budget antics are not the way to fund our parks,” the President and CEO of the NPCA said in a statement.
A total disregard for nature has forced a few national parks closed, including Joshua Tree National Park. Although many are enjoying free access, trash cans are overflowing, bathroom doors are locked, and pit toilets are overflowing. Which means if you have to go, the woods or an overfilled portable toilet may be the only options.
Yosemite is facing similar sanitation issues and had to shut down campgrounds as well. 27 tons of trash have been brought to the park since the shutdown and none of it is being disposed of or handled as it would be if staffing were present.
Because the parks are severely understaffed, volunteers have stepped up to clear trash and clean bathrooms, but there is only so much they can do. Once those port-a-potties fill up, there’s no amount of cleaning that will save them.