The United States has been in the midst of a government shutdown for more than 20 days, resulting in overflowing levels of trash and human waste in our national parks.
Our parks receive an estimated 330 million annual visitors, but the government shutdown has put the integrity of these parks in jeopardy, both due to illegal activities and the exorbitant amount of trash and waste that has yet to be taken care of.
During periods of even partial government shutdowns, federal funding for national parks dries up. This has led to a scant number of employees left to manage the many parks still open to the public.
Some superintendents are even calling for an immediate end to the shutdown in order to handle the overflowing trash cans, the rising amount of human feces, and illegal activities witnessed in the parks, including off-roading and poaching.
So far, an estimated seven people have died in national parks since the shutdown started back in December.
Phil Francis, former superintendent for the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is among the most vocal opponents.
He claims the government should do one of two things: end the shutdown immediately to clean up the current damage or close parks nationally in the interest of public health.
“We’re calling for the parks to be closed now, or fully funded. Once this issue is resolved, there’s going to be a mountain of work for limited staff to open campgrounds and visitor centers, and before you know it, it will be mowing season. I don’t know if we’ll have enough staff to open up,” he says.
This means that parks may not be prepared for the upcoming summer season. More than 11 million adults and children will attend summer camps and sports camps in the United States, but countless other visitors make the annual number of park visitors much higher.
For example, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park witnesses an annual number of 11.3 million visitors alone, making it one of the most-visited national parks. The park receives more visitors than Yellowstone and Yosemite, despite their fame.
And maintenance funds are only shrinking thanks to the government shutdown. Parks are relying on visitor funds to clean, maintain, and restore accessibility to areas that have been damaged. This money is normally used for future park projects, including wildlife habitat projects, recreation projects, and other visitor services that make the park a better place.
Though nearly 92% of Americans claim that vacation time is important to their lives, many citizens may not have a natural outlet should the national parks remain shut down.
Some national parks have stayed above water with donations from state governments. For example, Arizona has granted the Grand Canyon National Park an estimated $64,000 per week to help with park maintenance and trash removal.
This has also prompted some volunteers and community groups to take up maintenance on their own.
In Yosemite National Park, the Yosemite Climbing Association has supplied the dozens of local volunteers with a variety of cleaning products, including pickers, gloves, bags, and safety vests.
In one day, the group was able to pick up a couple hundred pounds of trash.
The government shutdown is expected to continue, but with the help of local communities, our parks may just be ready come summer.