Joshua Tree National Park in California announced on Tuesday afternoon that it would be closing for the remainder of the government shutdown due to the damage caused by reckless visitors.
Its closure, effective this Thursday, will allow employees “to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations,” the park said in a statement.
The current state of Joshua Tree National Park is proof that rangers are all that separate a wholesome nature experience from a Mad Max-style rampage.
At Joshua Tree, “overflowing trash bins, human waste in inappropriate places, altercations over parking spots and other impacts that…are a threat to visitor and wildlife safety as well as the protection of the natural and cultural resources,” John Garder, a senior budget director at the National Parks Conservation Association, told Boston public radio station WBUR.
The national park said on Tuesday that motorists have created new roads and destroyed endangered Joshua trees.
America’s national parks have dominated coverage of President Trump’s shutdown over funding for a US-Mexico border wall.
An estimated 16,000 National Park Service workers out of 19,000 have been furloughed, the agency estimates, leaving skeleton crews to keep watch over huge swaths of land. (Joshua Tree National Park is 1,235 square miles.) The 17-day shutdown has resulted in trash and human waste pileups, and even delays in reporting an accidental death in Yosemite National Park.
Joshua Tree is the first national park to take such drastic measures to protect its natural resources during the shutdown. Many parks remain open but understaffed, while others have closed access to popular trails and sites.
“Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol the park and enforce the closure until park staff complete the necessary cleanup and park protection measures,” the park stated.
Last week, former National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis criticized the decision to keep parks open during the shutdown, calling it “a violation of [the agency’s] stewardship mandate, motivated only by politics.”
Some parks are only getting by on donated funds and time from volunteer workers. Joshua Tree National Park thanked its surrounding communities for providing help and support throughout the shutdown.