Joshua Tree National Park Announces Closure After Trees Destroyed Amid Shutdown

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Maintenance and sanitation problems also reported 18 days after government shutdown furloughed the vast majority of park staff.

Volunteers helping tourists at the Joshua Tree National Park in California.
A day after this story was published, National Park Service announced that it had averted the closure by tapping revenues from recreation fees, and that campgrounds and entrance stations would be reopened on Thursday. In a press release, the NPS thanked volunteers “who provided basic sanitation in campgrounds and other closed areas during the lapse in appropriations”.

For 17 days, a host of volunteers and a skeleton staff kept the trash cans and toilets from overflowing at Joshua Tree national park.

But on Tuesday, 18 days after the federal government shutdown furloughed the vast majority of national park staff, officials announced that vandalism of the park’s distinctive namesake plants and other maintenance and sanitation problems will require closure starting Thursday.

“While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure,” spokesman George Land said in a news release.

Land told the Los Angeles Times that, with only eight rangers currently overseeing the nearly 800,000 acre park, the gates would likely remain closed until the shutdown ends.

But a different spokesman for the National Parks Service, Mike Litterst, subsequently told the Times that the park may not close after all if staff are able to complete cleanup work before Thursday.

National Park Service officials did not immediately respond to requests for clarification.

The potential closure of Joshua Tree was met with mixed emotions by those whose livelihoods depend on the more than 2.8 million visitors the park attracts annually.

“I have 11 employees who are effectively going to be laid off as of Thursday,” said Seth Zaharias, co-owner of a company that leads rock climbing trips in the park. “They are not going to work for the remainder of the shutdown.”

Still, Zaharias said that reports of vandalism to the park made him support the closure. “Economically, that’s disastrous for our community,” he said of the prospect of serious environmental damage to the park. “It’s really bad.”

His company was beginning to send out cancellation notices for customers who had booked trips after Thursday, he said.

David Lamfrom, director of the California desert and national wildlife programs for the National Parks Conservation Association, warned that the damage to Joshua Tree’s desert landscape could be catastrophic.

Source: The Guardian