Joshua Tree closed: shutdown brings turmoil to beloved US national parks

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Joshua Tree closed: shutdown brings turmoil to beloved US national parks.

Human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading, fights over camping spots and other damaging behavior in fragile areas are beginning to overwhelm some of the American west’s most popular national parks, as a partial government shutdown left the areas open to visitors but with few staff on duty.

Camping will be suspended in Joshua Tree national park, California, from Wednesday because of the chaos.

“It’s a free-for-all,” Dakota Snider, 24, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley, in northern California, said , as Yosemite national park officials announced closings of some minimally supervised campgrounds and public areas within the park that are overwhelmed.

“It’s so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I’ve seen in my four years living here,” Snider said.

The 11th day of the partial government shutdown, amid rows over federal funding and immigration issues, has forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees. This has left many parks without most of the rangers and others who staff campgrounds, enforce rules and otherwise keep parks running.

Unlike shutdowns in some previous administrations, the Trump administration was leaving parks open to visitors despite the staff furloughs, said John Garder, the senior budget director of the not-for-profit National Parks Conservation Association.

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“We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts,” Garder said. “We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety.”

Garder added: “It’s really a nightmare scenario.” .

Spokespeople with the interior department did not respond to requests for comment.

Jeremy Barnum, a National Park Service spokesman, had said as the shutdown took hold that “national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.” In practice, that has meant many park toilets were closed or filled to overflowing and acutely unable to deal with the larger crowds entering over the holiday period and taking advantage of the fact that many fees are not being charged during the shutdown.

Campers at Joshua Tree national park in southern California’s deserts were reporting squabbles as different visitors laid claims to sites, with no rangers on hand to adjudicate, said Ethan Feltges, who operates the Coyote Corner gift shop outside Joshua Tree. Now all camping facilities in the park will be shut from noon on Wednesday, the authorities announced.

Feltges and other business owners around Joshua Tree had stepped into the gap as much as possible, hauling trailers into the park to empty overflowing trash bins and sweeping and stocking restrooms that were still open, Feltges said.

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“The whole community has come together,” Feltges said. “Everyone loves the park. And there’s a lot of businesses that actually need the park.”

Most visitors were being respectful of the desert wilderness and park facilities, Joshua Tree’s superintendent, David Smith, said in a statement.

But some are seizing on the shortage of park staffers to drive off road illegally and otherwise damage the park, as well as relieving themselves in the open, a park statement said. Joshua Tree said it would begin closing some campgrounds for all but day use. Meanwhile, some visitors have strung Christmas lights in the protected Joshua trees, many of which are hundreds of years old, the Los Angeles Times reported.

At Yosemite, Snider, the local resident, said crowds of visitors were driving into the park to take advantage of free admission, with only a few park rangers working and a limited number of restrooms open.

Visitors were allowing their dogs to run off-leash in an area rich with bears and other wildlife, and scattering bags of garbage along the roads, Snider said.

“You’re looking at Yosemite Falls and in front of you is plastic bottles and trash bags,” he said.

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In Yellowstone national park, private companies have picked up some of the maintenance normally done by federal workers. The contractors that operate park tours by snowmobile, buses and vans are grooming trails, hauling trash and replacing toilet paper at pit toilets and restrooms along their routes. The park is known for its geysers and delicate hot springs that are already notoriously vulnerable to human interference, as are Yellowstone’s bison, bears and other protected animals that have increasingly been threatened by humans getting too close.

Nearly all roads inside Yellowstone are normally closed for winter, meaning most visitors at this time of the year access park attractions like the gigantic Old Faithful geyser or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone valley using guides. Those guides are splitting the cost of grooming the trails used by their vehicles to keep their operations going, said Travis Watt, the general manager of See Yellowstone Alpen Guides based in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Arches national park in Utah is closed because the federal shutdown means there no funds for snowplows and the roads are impassible, while Zion park further south has scaled back operations.

There are reports of roads blocked by uncleared ice and trash causing three-hour tailbacks in Sequoia national park in California.

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