By Russ and Tiña De Maris
As the federal funding “stalemate” turns into “stagnate,” national parks and other federal lands are left holding the bag. Here’s a synopsis from around the country:
Arizona: State government officials have pitched in nearly $64,000 to keep a few services operating for the first seven days of the shutdown. That meant the trash went out, bathrooms were cleaned, and some trails had snow cleared. Grand Canyon itself is open due to The Grand Canyon Protection Plan, enacted in 2018. The policy utilizes transferred state funds, meaning it can keep staff on hand.
In Florida, the South Florida National Parks Trust and the Florida National Parks Association have been working to working to improve conditions at Everglades, Big Cypress and Biscayne national parks during the partial shutdown. It’s the high season at Everglades but there are no park rangers and no one is taking admissions fees. But volunteers are advising people where to go, what to do, and keeping the bookstore and visitor’s center open while even emptying the trash and cleaning the restrooms.
Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park doesn’t have a benefactor. That meant trailside bathrooms were on lockdown, leaving visitors uncomfortable at best. “I was here yesterday and had to pee near a closed bathroom,” said Tom Nezovich, a retired federal employee from Parma. Nezovich made his comments to news5cleveland.com.
Things were far from clear at the great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the first days of the shutdown, “friends of the park” nonprofit Great Smoky Mountains Association donated funds to help keep three visitors centers open. That support meant trash removal, bathroom cleaning and staffing – but it ended on New Year’s Day. Their advice? Hit the bathroom before coming into the park. They also suggested Park Service employees will have a huge cleanup task ahead of them when the feds really do reopen.
Out West, Joshua Tree National Park in California had allowed camping to continue after the shutdown, but finally had to call a halt after pit toilets hit the overflow and scofflaws started tearing up critical habitat with off-road vehicles. “The park is being forced to take this action for health and safety concerns as vault toilets reach capacity. In addition, human waste in public areas, driving off road and other infractions that damage the resources are becoming a problem,” the NPS said on Monday in a brief statement.
Parts of Death Valley National Park closed Friday including The Furnace Creek and Texas Springs Campgrounds, along with access roads to Natural Bridge, Dantes View and Keane Wonder Mine. Visitor services remain limited, and there are health and safety concerns over human waste, trash, vandalism and resource damage.
Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has advised National Park visitors to “grab a trash bag and take some trash out” as garbage bins at parks overflow during the shutdown.
Similar issues are occurring at Yosemite National Park. But never fear, coffee lovers, the park’s Starbucks remains open.
Meanwhile, just to the south at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks the crowds and dirty conditions got so bad that rangers there barred the gates and are refusing to let anyone in unless they’re headed to one of the Christian camps at Hume Lake.
At Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, roads are now impassable due to snow. One guest described the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center area as “all yellow snow,” which she described as “pretty disgusting.”
MEANWHILE IN THE NATION’S CAPITAL
And while camping was not affected, the dirt and waste found its way to the doorstep of the origin of the shutdown, Washington, D.C. One media outlet put it this way: “As the government shutdown went into its 12th day on Wednesday, the nation’s capital was covered in trash. Due to the shutdown, open-air national landmarks such as the National Mall remain open but without services like bathroom access and trash cleanup. The Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are closed.”
One wonders if bathrooms were locked and trash services were suspended at a couple other D.C. locations, say at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the stalemate might end sooner?