As the government shutdown continues, many National Parks are suffering from a lack of staff as well as a complete disregard for the rules by visitors. According to multiple reports, some parks — like Yosemite National Park in California — are being overwhelmed by trash, vandalism, human waste and destructive off-roading.
“It’s a free-for-all,” said Yosemite worker Dakota Snider, who added that the heartbreaking situation is the worst he has seen in his four years living there.
The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that people had seen some visitors at Yosemite dumping bags of trash from their cars, and the park closed two campgrounds and a redwood grove because of issues with human waste and a lack of staffing.
“With restrooms closed, some visitors are opting to deposit their waste in natural areas adjacent to high traffic areas, which creates a health hazard for other visitors,” said National Parks Service spokesman Andrew Munoz.
At the beginning of the shutdown, the Trump administration kept most of the National Parks open with skeleton staffs on site to make sure visitors followed the rules, like no littering and no hunting. But because there was no one to collect admission fees, the number of visitors has surged, and the skeleton crews can’t handle the park traffic.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park has locked its restrooms and trash bins because of human waste issues, wildlife concerns and public health, according to a notice on the park website.
In addition to the human waste problem, the weather has also been an issue in some locations. Arches and Canyonlands in Utah have closed because there is no money to plow the snow. The state of Utah was paying to staff all five of its National Parks, but as the new year started, it decided to staff only Zion.
At Joshua Tree in Southern California, local residents and businesses are volunteering to help keep the restrooms functioning by cleaning them and hauling out trash, and private park tour companies are doing similar work in Yellowstone.
In New York, the state is funding both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to make sure they continue to operate during the shutdown.