As the government shutdown continues, an interesting facilities issue has arisen.
Due to furloughed workers, government-run facilities, including National Parks and sites in Washington, D.C., are overflowing with garbage and, at least in the case of California’s Joshua Tree National Park, near-capacity pit toilets.
What is the Government Shutdown?
A shutdown of the government occurs when either congress or the president is incapable of approving the following year’s spending. During a shutdown, “non-essential” services by the government are shuttered, with “essential services” being available with delays or as usual.
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After failing to reach an agreement on the government’s 2019 budget by December 23, 2018, more than a quarter of the federal government has been shutdown with 345,000 employees out of work and 500,000 working without pay.
The House has already passed bipartisan legislation to provide employees with backpay.
Why the Shutdown is an Issue for National Parks
One “non-essential” service is the staffing and maintenance of the National Parks Service (NPS). The NPS is responsible for roughly 27,000 employees and 417 properties—59 of which are national parks.
Unlike previous shutdowns, park gates have remained open despite being minimally staffed. The park service announced, “Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor’s sole risk.” It also stated that they are prevented from employing staff to “provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response.”
The lack of employees has been somewhat of a boon, however, to those who are using the empty parking and toll booths as an excuse to visit the national parks. And herein lies the issue.
National parks are seeing abnormally high rates of visitors while being understaffed. Because those still working are there to ensure the safety of visitors and conservation of the sites, every day facilities work, such as removing garbage and emptying pit toilets, aren’t being done.
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The overwhelming amount of trash has lead to the closing of several national parks due to concerns that the litter poses a danger to wild life.
As of the morning of January 3rd, Washington’s Top New (WTop) stated the following closes:
- Yosemite National Park has closed some minimally supervised campgrounds and public areas, including spots frequented in the winter for snow play.
- Some areas of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks has closed.
- Grant Tree Trail has closed due to slick ice that poses a threat to visitors.
- Officials at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado have closed the restrooms and locked up trash bins.
Within two weeks of the government shutdown, California’s Joshua Tree National Park was closed as of Wednesday, January 2nd, due to health and safety concerns related to near-capacity pit toilets.
Volunteers Rolling Up Their Sleeves
Throughout the shutdown, volunteers have stepped up to help maintain the waste issues as much as possible. According to CNN, David Smith, superintendent of Joshua Tree, thanked the “local businesses, volunteer groups, and tribal members” who have collected trash and maintained grounds.
Philanthropic groups such as the National Park Foundation (NPF) have stepped in to provide support, and more than 40 agreements with vendors and partner organizations have been signed that aid in the servicing of the national parks.
ABC7 in California’s Bay Area created “Trash Tracker,” an interactive map which lets people know where the trash is piling up along government trails and parks. A few heart icons show the location and story of volunteers busy cleaning federal land that ABC7 met while surveying the sites.
In Washington, D.C., the impact of the government shutdown is most apparent. Beyond being home to many of the country’s government workers as well as one of the highest populations of people on social services, trash services in the National Mall and other government-owned facilities have halted and trashcans are overflowing.
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An agreement between the NPS and the Capitol Hall Business Improvement District has allowed the latter to maintain some of the upkeep in D.C. The first day, the group reportedly removed 80 bags of trash, while they have averaged about 30 bags a day since then.
Still, the shutdown has made clear the simple fact that those dirty job aspects that are usually out of sight, out of mind are the first to come out into the open.
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