After the start of the partial U.S. federal government shutdown, which began Dec. 21, 2018, national parks began to experience their share of the effects. The federal government offices affected were reopened Jan. 25 when
President Donald J. Trump signed a continuing resolution that reopens agencies through Feb. 15. However, reopened agencies may take some time to recover.
The shutdown was caused by a disagreement in funding over the border wall between the United States and Mexico. The shutdown affected the parks, which were left largely
unattended, as well as those employed by the parks.
Some federal employees, including at the National Park level, were furloughed. Through the generosity of nonprofits, various states and partnering companies, certain parks were able to temporarily open with limited resources during the shutdown.
Since the shutdown, volunteers and some off-duty employees stepped up to manage and clean the parks.
Parks across the nation asked their visitors to clean up after themselves, stay on the trails and respect the parks.
In hopes of keeping the parks open during the difficult time, NPS said it planned to use money from entrance fees to cover costs until further notice.
Smith said they put the funds toward cleaning up trash throughout the parks, maintaining the restrooms, employing law enforcement to patrol parks and reopening various areas of the parks.
“While the NPS will not be able to fully open parks (during the shutdown), and many of the smaller sites around the country will remain closed, utilizing these funds now will allow the American public to safely visit many of our nation’s national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve,” Smith said.
In the coming months, NPS will use its funds to ensure the parks are protected and the public can access the full services of the park.
During the shutdown, the operations of national parks were in the hands of visitors and volunteers.
Laura Wattles, communications manger for Yosemite Mariposa Count Tourism Bureau, said the Mariposa community and beyond came together in multiple ways.
A group called “Yosemite Facelift” began parking a truck and trailer full of supplies in the Yosemite Valley for those interested in joining the efforts to keep the park clean.
“Volunteers are giving their time to pick up litter, provide dumpsters, hand out trash bags and spread the message of Leave No Trace,” Wattles said. “We are happy to be part of a community that cares and collaborates to help as a unified team.”
Leave No Trace urges visitors to pick up after themselves and leave the parks better than they found them. They intend to reduce the damage to the parks.
Dr. Bonjun Koo, professor of environmental science, said one of the reasons maintaining national parks is important is because they represent life in the community.
Koo said parks such as Yosemite and Joshua Tree benefit California economically, socially and environmentally.
“The soil, plants and animals could face years, if not indefinite, damage as a result of some of these unregulated activities,” Koo said. “Leaving parks open without staffing and resources or fewer rangers imperils the health and safety
of the visitors and long-term integrity of the parks.”
At this point, it is di cult to assess the amount of damage done to each park. Some restoration e orts will take weeks or months, while others may last years. It is also unclear right now how much funding from NPS will go to each park.
Megan Aleksak, sophomore early childhood studies major, recently went on a trip to Yosemite and said she was able to drive into the park without paying an entrance fee.
“We heard from residents that the park was going to be run down. We only saw overflowing trashcans and empty buildings,” Aleksak said. “The lack of bathrooms made it di cult to go far into the park and we were unable to go into the visitor center or any park buildings.”
Yosemite and many other national parks adopted an “explore on your own” mindset while they were unable to provide for the visitors.
A total of 58 parks were affected by the government shutdown.