Visitors have reportedly ravaged the historic Joshua Tree National Park during the government shutdown, with reports of trees being cut down and graffiti being scrawled on rocks as officials struggle to contain the damage.
The Southern California park was forced to close its campgrounds last week due to an overflow of garbage built up during the shutdown. Now, a report from National Parks Traveler claims that visitors have done widespread damage in other parts of the park, including its most fragile areas. That includes people who have created new roads to access parts of the park not normally open to the public and destroying some of the natural habitat.
“We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving around the entire area to access probably our most significant tree in the park,” Joshua Tree superintendent David Smith told the outlet. “We have this hybrid live oak tree that is deciduous. It is one of our kind of iconic trees inside the park. People were driving to it and camping under it. Through the virgin desert to get to this location.”
Smith had initially announced that the entire park would be closed to prevent any further damage, but Vox reported that he was overruled by federal officials who reopened the park the following day and said they will use existing Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to begin cleanup.
This is not the only national park to face dangerous conditions due to the government shutdown that has sent home all employees. In Oregon, Crater Lake National Park was forced to close the road leading to the popular lake due to a buildup of human waste. Across the country, other national parks have seen a similar buildup of garbage and human feces, creating what the Willamette Week called a “national park poop crisis.”
In Joshua Tree National Park, volunteers reported visitors doing widespread damage to the sensitive habitat with nothing — and no one — to stop them.
“That guy was casually brushing teeth when I pointed out that he’d run over and crushed creosote and cactus,” volunteer Rand Abbott told the Los Angeles Times about one park vandal. “He just flipped me off.”
During the shutdown, with Joshua Tree National Park open but no staff on duty, visitors cut down Joshua trees so they could drive into sensitive areas where vehicles are banned.— John Upton (@johnupton) January 10, 2019
"We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving." https://t.co/EbSB4bF8hK pic.twitter.com/8kVFClVqxZ
There does not appear to be any end in sight for the government shutdown, which is in its third week. Donald Trump continues to demand funding for a border wall while Congressional Democrats have remained steadfast in their stance not to offer any funding.