Garbage, feces take toll on national parks amid shutdown; nonprofit pitches in at Zion

A road lined with trash in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Dec. 31, 2018. Human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading and other damaging behavior in fragile areas were beginning to overwhelm some of the West's iconic national parks, as a partial government shutdown left the areas open to visitors but with little staff on duty. | Photo courtesy of Dakota Snider via Associated Press, St. George News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading and other damaging behavior in fragile areas were beginning to overwhelm some of the West’s iconic national parks, as a partial government shutdown left the areas open to visitors but with little staff on duty.

Angels Landing towers over the Virgin River in Zion National Park, date, location unspecified | Photo courtesy of Pixabay, St. George News

“It’s a free-for-all,” Dakota Snider, 24, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley, said by telephone Monday, a Yosemite National Park officials announced closings of some minimally supervised campgrounds and public areas within the park that are overwhelmed.

“It’s so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I’ve seen in my four years living here,” Snider said.

The partial federal government shutdown, now into its 11th day, has forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees. This has left many parks without most of the rangers and others who staff campgrounds and otherwise keep parks running.

Unlike shutdowns in some previous administrations, the Trump administration was leaving parks open to visitors despite the staff furloughs, said John Garder, senior budget director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association.

Trash tossed on the grounds in Yosemite National Park, Calif., Dec. 31, 2018. | Photo courtesy of Dakota Snider via Associated Press, St. George News

“We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts,” Garder said. “We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety. It’s really a nightmare scenario.”

Fox13Now reports that when Utah on Monday ceased funding for national parks in the state, the nonprofit Zion National Park Forever Project stepped in.

Lyman Hafen said the group is committing $2,000 a day from Jan. 1-5 to Zion National Park.

“I feel like it’s very important to keep some basic operations in place,” Hafen told Fox13. “To keep some restrooms open, to keep the trash collection going and those kinds of things.”

Under the National Park Service’s shutdown plan, authorities have to close any area where garbage or other problems become threats to health and safety or to wildlife, spokesman Jeremy Barnum said in an email Monday.

“At the superintendent’s discretion, parks may close grounds/areas with sensitive natural, cultural, historic, or archaeological resources vulnerable to destruction, looting, or other damage that cannot be adequately protected by the excepted law enforcement staff that remain on duty,” Barnum said.

In the southern Sierra Nevada in Central California, some areas of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks were closed Monday evening. In Sequoia, home to immense and ancient giant sequoias, General Highway was closed because overflowing trash bins were spreading litter and posed a threat to wildlife and the icy, jammed roadway was seeing up to three-hour delays, according to the National Park Service.

Also closed was the Grant Tree Trail, a popular hiking spot, because the government shutdown halted maintenance and left the path dangerously slick from ice and snow, with at least one injury reported, the park service said.

Campers at Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California’s deserts were reporting squabbles as different families laid claims to sites, with no rangers on hand to adjudicate, said Ethan Feltges, who operates the Coyote Corner gift shop outside Joshua Tree.

Feltges and other business owners around Joshua Tree had stepped into the gap as much as possible, hauling trailers into the park to empty overflowing trash bins and sweeping and stocking restrooms that were still open, Feltges said.

Feltges himself had set up a portable toilet at his store to help the visitors still streaming in and out of the park. He was spending his days standing outside his store, offering tips about the park in place of the rangers who normally would be present.

“The whole community has come together,” Feltges said, also by phone. “Everyone loves the park. And there’s a lot of businesses that actually need the park.”

Some visitors have strung Christmas lights in the twisting Joshua trees, many of which are hundreds of years old, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Most visitors were being respectful of the desert wilderness and park facilities, Joshua Tree’s superintendent, David Smith, said in a statement.

But some are seizing on the shortage of park staffers to off-road illegally and otherwise damage the park, as well as relieving themselves in the open, a park statement said. Joshua Tree said it would begin closing some campgrounds for all but day use.

At Yosemite, Snider, the local resident, said crowds of visitors were driving into the park to take advantage of free admission, with only a few park rangers working and a limited number of restrooms open.

Visitors were allowing their dogs to run off-leash in an area rich with bears and other wildlife, and scattering bags of garbage along the roads, Snider said.

“You’re looking at Yosemite Falls and in front of you is plastic bottles and trash bags,” he said.

Officials at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado said Monday they were closing restrooms and locking up trash bins in many locations.

In Yellowstone National Park, private companies have picked up some of the maintenance normally done by federal workers. The contractors that operate park tours by snowmobile, buses and vans are grooming trails, hauling trash and replacing toilet paper at pit toilets and restrooms along their routes.

Nearly all roads inside Yellowstone are normally closed for winter, meaning most visitors at this time of the year access park attractions like Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone through guides. Those guides are splitting the cost of grooming the trails used by their vehicles to keep their operations going, said Travis Watt, general manager of See Yellowstone Alpen Guides based in West Yellowstone, Montana.

The tour companies can likely keep this system going through the entire winter season if they need to, Watt said.

“It’s definitely not our preference — the park service does a good job doing their thing and we hate to see them out of work,” Watt said. “But it’s something we can handle.”

Written by ELLEN KNICKMEYER and JOCELYN GECKER, Associated Press. Gecker reported from San Francisco. Matt Volz contributed from Helena, Montana.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • JJODL January 1, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Sounds like California people aren’t content to spread their feces around San Francisco, they need to drop it in Yosemite also. Maybe they need a law requiring their mother to follow them around with a pooper-scooper.

  • Redbud January 1, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Nancy Pelosi needs to stop being a hag, and come to the negotiating table.

    • Red2Blue310 January 2, 2019 at 7:29 pm

      You need schooling. Stop listening to Rush. This is the Trump shutdown, the man who doesnt give a sh.. whether people make a living and his tools the republicans. Remember: build the wall, and who’s going to pay for it? … wait, wait… M E X I C O. Trumps BS YOU want us all to support. CONGRESS and the Trump admin should be the ONLY people not paid on a stupid shutdown.

      • Redbud January 2, 2019 at 9:29 pm

        You are the one who needs schooling. Without a wall, there is no border security. We need a wall, and Trump is doing the right thing for our country with the shutdown. It doesn’t matter if the shutdown is his fault or not, we can argue about that all day. When it’s all said and done, he is currently doing what’s best for the country. He is very smart to shut the government down, and I pray it stays shut down indefinitely until the wall is funded.

  • LocalTourist January 1, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    1. If you really think trashing our national parks is just happening in California, you may want to take a drive over to Zion or Arches.

    2. Pelosi isn’t responsible for this, Trump even took credit for it. Agreed she should “stop being a hag”, but the Giant Orange Cheeto should maybe try stepping up and being a president.

    • Redbud January 1, 2019 at 11:11 pm

      Trump did take the blame, but Pelosi is the one dragging it out longer than necessary because she refuses to meet Trump halfway, or even negotiate. Let me ask you a question. If you are in an argument with someone, whether you started it or not, how can you reach a resolution or compromise if the other person isn’t willing to listen to you? Pelosi is the perfect definition of a failure! She brings nothing to the table. Trump has reached out to the other side, now it’s up to them, and that’s all we have really been waiting on.

      • bikeandfish January 2, 2019 at 11:25 am

        Untrue. A compromise is only possible if both parties are willing to forfeit something. Trump isn’t willing to do that either hence the stalemate.

        • Redbud January 2, 2019 at 8:42 pm

          False! Trump has been willing to compromise. All the garbage and feces building up in the parks should be collected and dumped on Pelosi’s doorstep, exactly where it belongs since she is unwilling to compromise. She showed off her true leadership skills by going to Hawaii, and making no attempt whatsoever to compromise with Trump.

          • bikeandfish January 2, 2019 at 9:48 pm

            So Trump is willing to forfeit his wall demands and the associated budget for it? Did I miss some news today while I was out biking?

        • Redbud January 2, 2019 at 11:04 pm

          Bike, forfeiting doesn’t need to be part of the compromise. He was willing to take less money for the wall and offered some other things in exchange. Nancy did not want to hear any of it.

          • bikeandfish January 3, 2019 at 10:53 am

            You don’t understand the process or the definitions. Neither of them are willing to find a compromise right now.

            Compromise: (noun) an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

            There is no agreement on terms or viable concessions. Trump has spent years talking about how great he is at deal making but can’t even find a compromise on a CR. But a compromise requires agreement by both sides at the end of the day.

            At this point, Jan 3rd, the start of the new Congress, its up to the House and Senate to decide if they’ll continue on this path or move forward with a new strategy. That means House Democrats now own that chambers decision as the majority.

            Only time will tell who concedes the most.

            Ironically, we are closing in on the length of the 17-day shutdown under Obama that Trump mocked and made his previously shared comments about regarding accountability and strategic ability. Will be interesting to see if Trump eats his words or if he rushes to resolve this before that symbolic deadline. Either way we are seeing his true ability contrasted to the myth he fostered for decades. He no longer gets to bully everyone into accepting his demands like he did with his private businesses for ages.

  • tazzman January 1, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Thanks to the folks at Zion Forever for stepping up during this time.

  • Lastdays January 1, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    So instead of blaming the government for this or that and whether or not a certain park is open or not, let’s put the blame where it belongs.
    The blame lays entirely on the degenerate slobs who make it their choice to litter or trash the roadsides and outdoors wherever they’ve been. That irresponsible pathetic behavior is of their own choice and NOT anybody else’s.

    • sheepobserver January 1, 2019 at 8:20 pm

      Well said. I’ve traveled all around the country and it never ceases to amaze me at the garbage I find in rural areas. Not parks per se, just public land and rural areas in general. It’s no different here in Utah, it’s just the lack of population that makes the difference here. Sadly, the population is growing here, and with it come the slobs.

      I go for long drives in the desert here and always find areas with shot up tv’s, tires, off road tracks, couches, fridges, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. It’s the norm in all the states I’ve been to.
      It has nothing to do with politics.


    • mesaman January 1, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      Your comment should be posted at the entrance to a park and to visitor’s areas within these parks. It’s not about the shutdown, it’s about human degradation and irresponsibility.

    • bikeandfish January 1, 2019 at 10:48 pm

      Hard to deny the truth behind individual accountability. But this is ultimately an issue because our parks are open without staffing. We’ve known a portion of citizens will despoil public lands for ages, hence management practices. This new practice (late Obama years) of keeping national parks open during government shutdowns is not sustainable in any fashion. It’s ultimately I a destructive practice.

  • utahdiablo January 1, 2019 at 8:30 pm

    Well said Lastdays…people are becoming low life pos more and more each day with law enforcement in place, so now without there being paid rangers to oversee these scofflaws? complete chaos and disorder ….just imagine if the cell phones, credit cards readers, gas station pumps, and everything else that these “people” take for granted each day stop working because of a glitch that China or North Korea or whomever causes?…Just keep your powder dry folks….you’ll be using it sooner than you think

  • justsaying January 2, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Isn’t it strange that someone would go visit a park and take in it’s natural beauty only to leave behind trash and other matters?

  • Canaanite January 2, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    These dirt bags need to take their crap with them when they leave.

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