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Joshua Tree National Park to shut due to vandalism, sanitation problems during government shutdown



The iconic Joshua Tree National Park in California has announced it will shut its gates at 8 a.m. Thursday due to vandalism of its famous plants and santitation problems caused by a drastic lack of staff during the ongoing government shutdown.

In a press release on Tuesday, National Park Service spokesman George Land said that Joshua Tree will be closed at least temporarily while staff try to get on top of the issues.

Campgrounds at the park closed to overnight visitors on January 2 when vault toilets almost hit capacity, while visitors “created new roads by driving off pavement and defaced the park’s namesake Joshua trees,” according to the LA Times.

Trash cans were also reportedly overflowing, while many visitors have been entering the park without paying the $30 fee.

Read more:Park rangers share fears of unemployment as national parks overflow with garbage during the government shutdown

While US national parks were not ordered to close during the budget shutdown between President Donald Trump and Democrats in the House of Representatives, which is now in its 19th day, volunteers have been tasked with picking up trash and cleaning toilets, Reuters reports.

Volunteers Alexandra (R) and Ruth Degen prepare to clean a restroom at Joshua Tree National Park on January 4, 2019 in Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Land added that “the communities near Joshua Tree National Park have provided significant assistance and support to the park” during the shutdown.

Joshua Tree, made up of a whopping 790,636 acres (1,235.4 sq miles or 3,199.6 square km), is located about 100 miles east of Los Angeles in the California desert.

Named after its Joshua trees, which are native to the Mojave Desert, it is popular for camping, hiking, rock climbing, birding, wildlife, as well as those interested in astronomy due to its dark night skies.

According to The Guardian, the park attracts more than 2.8 million visitors annually.

Joshua Tree has also carved a place in pop culture — it appeared on a 1972 Eagles album cover, and U2 even named their fifth studio album in 1987 “The Joshua Tree.”

Land said: “Park officials are identifying the additional staff and resources needed to address immediate maintenance and sanitation issues and will utilize funds from the park fees to address those issues per the recently updated National Park Service contingency plan during a lapse in appropriations.

“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.”

A closed and blocked campground (L) at the Joshua Tree National Park after the federal government’s partial shutdown caused park rangers to stay home and campgrounds to be shut, at the park in California, on January 3, 2019.

He added that “park officials plan to restore accessibility to the park in addition to limited basic services in the coming days.”

National Parks Service spokesman Mike Litterst later told the LA Times that staff are due to start cleanup at the park on Wednesday, with hopes of having “everything finished and access restored to the park by the end of the week.”

Should the closure go ahead as planned on Thursday, however, countless staff will be left without work.

“I have 11 employees who are effectively going to be laid off as of Thursday,” Seth Zaharias, co-owner of a company that leads rock climbing trips in the park, told The Guardian. “They are not going to work for the remainder of the shutdown.”

However, Zaharias added that he still supports the closure of the park because of the vandalism, which, should it continue, could be “disastrous for our community.”

A roadway sign for Joshua Tree National Park stands on January 4, 2019 in Joshua Tree National Park, California.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Joshua Tree is not the only national park to be impacted by the shutdown.

Earlier this week, Yosemite National Park said on Twitter that some of its trails would be closed as of January 5 for “safety and human waste reasons.”

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