Government Shutdown: Photos of Littered National Parks Are Post-Apocalyptic

"We are very concerned about the future of our park."

America’s partial federal government shutdown is in its twelfth day, and visitors to its national parks are acting like teenagers throwing a party when their parents are out of town. Images of Lassen National Forest in California, seen in the video above, show empty beer cans, broken sleds, and plastic plates piling up in the United States Department of Agriculture-regulated forest. Because of the shutdown, there are no federal employees to maintain the grounds and enforce the rules.

The situation isn’t unique to Lassen: Parks across the country, operated by the federal government, are feeling the worst of the shutdown. Roads within the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks were closed because of overflowing trash bins. Campers in Yosemite National Park are urinating and defecating in the roads because restrooms are closed. And even D.C.’s long, grassy National Mall is littered with heaps of garbage.

In Joshua Tree, volunteers are working together to keep the national park clean and safe. Kenji Haroutunian, president of the nonprofit organization Friends of Joshua Tree, tells Inverse that the organization has been working with local volunteer crews daily to clean, restock, and maintain bathrooms in the park as well as remove overflowing trash from bins to minimize its impact on wildlife.

“This shutdown greatly impacts the park. Human impacts to wildlife and the fragile desert ecosystem are mounting, and each day the park goes unmanaged we lose ground as trash piles mount and bathrooms become unusable,” Haroutunian says. “We are very concerned about the future of our park, and frankly all public lands across the southwest, as this situation is replicated in dozens of protected, wild places across California and all desert regions.”

To some people, a minimally staffed park might sound like a good time. There are no rangers to charge an entrance fee or regulate where you set up camp. But there’s also no one taking out the trash, servicing the restrooms, or taking care of visitor safety. The Washington Post describes the current state of the national parks as having a “Wild West vibe.” Dakota Snider, who lives and works in Yosemite, told the Associated Press that “there is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I’ve seen in my four years living here.”

Because the National Park Service’s shutdown plan doesn’t consider snow-plowing essential, many of the roads surrounding the parks are also closed. This is taking its toll on local residents and business owners, who are holding out hope that the shutdown doesn’t permanently damage the tourist season.

“This irresponsible shutdown affects the community of Joshua Tree and dozens of small businesses who thrive on seasonal outdoor recreation-based revenues,” says Haroutunian. “This includes restaurants, convenience stores, gift shops and service providers who will begin laying off workers and losing precious days of a few months-long working season.”

Journalist Nick Schwellenbach took the below photo on Wednesday morning with this caption: “Quick pic on my bike ride in. That’s the White House in the background. The National Park can’t empty trash cans next to the Washington Monument.” However, in Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser of authorized the city’s public works department to “pick up the Fed’s trash,” in the words of a local TV reporter.

Another photo from New Year’s Eve shows litter strewn across the National Mall:

How long the government shutdown will last remains to be seen. Democrats plan on voting on a bill to open chunks of the government once they take control of the House on Thursday. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that the shutdown will last “as long as it takes” to get money from Congress to build a border wall. In the meantime, volunteers like the Friends of Joshua Tree will continue to do what it takes to protect the park they love: There are plans for volunteer meet-ups until Sunday.

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