Joshua Tree National Park will temporarily close to all visitors beginning on Thursday due to damage and sanitation issues caused by the partial government shutdown, a park spokesman said Tuesday.
The southern California park will close beginning at 8 a.m. PDT on Thursday “to allow park staff to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations,” spokesman George Land said in a statement on the National Park Service website.
The government is now in the third week of a partial shutdown that has left 380,000 federal workers furloughed and another 420,000 working without pay. National parks typically close during government shutdowns, but the Trump administration kept them open during this partial shutdown without funding, leaving them sorely understaffed and lacking resources for sanitation and maintenance.
About eight rangers are currently on hand to oversee Joshua Tree’s sprawling 790,636 acres, Land told The Los Angeles Times. Without comprehensive oversight, the park has fallen victim to irresponsible visitors over the winter holiday.
“While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure,” Land said.
Though Land said in his statement the park would reopen “to limited basic services in the coming days,” he told the Los Angeles Times that the site could remain closed for the duration of the shutdown.
President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders have made little headway in recent days in reopening government functions affected by the shutdown. The president continues to demand more than $5 billion for some version of a wall or steel barrier along the southern border.
In the meantime, national parks around the country have witnessed streams of visitors ― sometimes failing to pay entrance fees ― while overburdened staff have tried to mitigate the public health hazard of over trash and human waste.
In some cases, emergency services may have been impacted as well. A visitor at Yosemite National Park ― where a staff of 800 was shrunken to as low as 50 ― reportedly fell to his death on Christmas Day. The incident went unreported for a week due to the ongoing government shutdown, according to a National Park Service spokesman.