Unlike previous government shutdowns, during which parks were closed, national parks are still open to visitors during the Trump administration’s current shutdown — though they’re barely operating. However, the shutdown still affects federal employees, meaning parks are severely understaffed — leaving trails of garbage and human poop, with barely anyone around to maintain restrooms and trash cans.
Joshua Tree, bucking under the weight of near-capacity toilets, is closing popular campgrounds on Wednesday due to health and safety concerns.
Sabra Purdy, who owns the rock-climbing guide service Cliffhanger Guides in Joshua Tree, told the Washington Post that human feces is piling up in the park, overwhelming cleanup volunteers like herself who’ve been trying to maintain order.
“Once those port-a-potties fill up, there’s no amount of cleaning that will save them,” she said. “At that point, I think I’m going to have to tap out.”
The government shutdown, now on its 12th day, began with a dispute between President Trump and Congress over funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. With Congress at an impasse, about a quarter of the federal government employees — including park rangers — are starting 2019 out of work or working without a paycheck.
Yosemite National Park, too, has closed some of its campgrounds and public areas after being inundated with garbage and human poop.
Dakota Snider, who lives and works in the Yosemite Valley, told the Associated Press that the current situation was a “free-for-all.”
“There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I’ve seen in my four years living here,” Snider said.
But David Lamfrom, director of the California Desert and National Wildlife programs of the National Parks Conservation Association, told CNN that overwhelming amounts of poop isn’t the only concern.
“People are walking off trails, bringing their dogs,” he said. “People are trampling and destroying the things they want to preserve without knowing it … People are camping where they want or showing up really early or late at certain watering holes so animals like bighorn sheep won’t come down to drink.”
President Trump has said he’s “ready” to negotiate over the government shutdown, but until then, it looks like national parks are becoming a Wild West of trash and feces.