Joshua Tree National Park, Trashed by Visitors During Shutdown, Will Close Jan. 10
Joshua Tree National Park will close at 8 a.m. on Jan. 10 due to damage from visitors and a lack of service, bathroom maintenance, and trash removal, the National Park Service said in a statement. It’s not known when—or if—it will re-open while a partial government shutdown remains underway.
Some visitors to Joshua Tree National Park have carved new roads by driving away from established paths in the nearly 800,000-acre park, home to the iconic and rare Joshua trees. Some trees have been destroyed as well. Concessionaires and private companies with arrangements to operate within or near national parks have voluntarily picked up some of the slack.
Joshua trees are already endangered due to climate change, which has led to reduced rainfall and other severe environmental conditions.
Joshua Tree and many other national parks have remained open during a period in which the Department of the Interior remains without funding, despite most park staff required to be on furlough and barred from performing work. This is a break from previous shutdowns, when most national parks were entirely closed.
The park service has nearly 25,000 employees, and just over 3,000 remain working without pay. That has left parks without significant—sometimes any—supervision and maintenance. The park service said it will rely on collected fees to restart service in some highly visited parks, and bring some employees back on the job. Some state governments have temporarily taken over the operating costs or maintenance of key parks in their borders.
The park service hasn’t set even a tentative date for re-opening Joshua Tree, noting only, “Park officials plan to restore accessibility to the park in addition to limited basic services in the coming days.” The service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Fortune. The service said law-enforcement rangers will enforce the closure.
Seven people have died in national parks since the multi-week shutdown began, including four deaths believed to be suicides, but that count is in keeping or lower than the typical mortality rate.
Trash has been left or scattered in several parks. The park service has been reduced to advising visitors how to handle full trash cans: “Do not leave trash on top of or next to a dumpster or trash can, or stuff trash into a full one. Carry your trash to a dumpster or trash can at a hotel or store that is open and has a dumpster or trash can that is not full.”
Even responsible visitors have had to make use of overflowing bathroom facilities—or find makeshift alternatives when none were available.