Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks

Typically, I’m writing here about places I love, & why you should visit them.  In this case, I’m still writing about places I love (our National Parks), only I’m recommending that you NOT visit them right now.  With our federal government having been shutdown for just over a month, since December 22nd, the decision was made to keep our National Parks open ~ but with skeleton crews.  No entrance fees are being collected, yet most park gates remain open.  Though this may seem like a good time to enjoy some of our most beautiful places for free, here I will assert “Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks.”

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks, Girl Who Travels the World

I visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time last July. During this government shutdown, the park has been affected by vandalism, with people chopping down Joshua Trees to create new (& illegal) off-roading paths.

Leaving the parks open without these essential staff is equivalent to leaving the Smithsonian museums open without any staff to protect the priceless artifacts.

Jonathan B. Jarvis, former director of the National Park Service

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks

A story caught my eye while reading our local paper, “The Desert Sun.”  In it, they talked about vandalism that has been occurring at Joshua Tree National Park since the government shutdown.  With little to no oversight, trash bins are overflowing, Port-a-Potties are full, & perhaps even more disturbingly, some people have vandalized the park by drawing graffiti on rocks, cutting down the park’s iconic Joshua Trees, & off-roading in fragile sections of the park.  Concerned locals have tried to mitigate some of this damage by coming in & collecting garbage ~ but it’s clear that, without park management & oversight, Joshua Tree has attracted people who lack respect for our National Parks’ very clear mission:  

The National Park Service preserves, unimpaired, the natural & cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, & inspiration of this and future generations.

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks, Girl Who Travels the World

Iconic Joshua Trees, cut down. Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks

Meanwhile, what’s been going on at other National Parks, during the shutdown?

  • At Yosemite National Park, 27 tons of trash have been brought into the park (by visitors) since the shutdown began.  Garbage cans are overflowing; human waste can be found in vehicle turn-outs & near closed restrooms; trash is being left in picnic areas (which is normally a ticketed offense, & can lead to major problems with bears); people are bringing dogs in off-leash & damaging sensitive areas (which is typically forbidden in all National Parks); & volunteers have been picking up cigarette butts, refuse, & toilet paper that has been strewn throughout the park.
  • In Death Valley National Park, human excrement & toilet paper can be found near closed restrooms; vehicles have been off-roading & doing donuts in the desert, in what are normally off-limits/forbidden areas. 
  • Grand Canyon National Park is still open & running smoothly (with no overflowing toilets) ~ but only because Arizona has dipped into their state funds to pay for necessary park services. 
  • At the National Mall in Washington D.C., trash is overflowing in garbage bins left unattended, just a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital.

Why is All of this Damaging?

Human waste, people off-roading, leaving trash strewn about….is all this really a big deal??  The short answer = YES.  Sure, overflowing Port-a-Potties are gross ~ but is it really a problem for humans to shit out in the wild?  It is when too many of them do it.  Our National Parks are often protected for very special reasons: because they reflect a landscape that is extremely unique, & often fragile.  Too much human waste can & will affect the soil & water quality in that area.  People leaving trash out at Yosemite further exacerbates the park’s problem with bears, which can result in increasing bear encounters.  Off-roading in restricted park areas damages the very complex network that is the soil ecosystem ~ & this damage is particularly noticeable in dry, desert climates, such as Death Valley & Joshua Tree

And, speaking from a strictly common sense viewpoint: do you really want to visit your local National Park when most (if not all) services are shut down, when there’s no one to help you if something goes wrong, & when there’s no place to adequately relieve yourself??  Does this sound fun to you?!

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks, Girl Who Travels the World

Yosemite National Park, in better days. Wait to visit when the park is fully back up & running (with open bathrooms).

The Silver Lining…

Though there are some under-educated people out there who may consider this government shutdown to be a “free-for-all,” it’s my personal belief that there are many more people who are concerned & wish to help.  This can be seen at both Joshua Tree & Yosemite National Parks, as locals have begun pitching in to help clean up, doing what they can to help keep the parks up & running. 

Why Now is Not Time to Visit Our National Parks, Girl Who Travels the World

For every idiot out there ~ there are a dozen people who just want to make a difference & help out! Photo courtesy of Inside Edition.

If you & your family are dead-set on visiting one of our National Parks in the coming weeks, & the government is still in shutdown mode, take it upon yourself to bring extra trash bags & gloves.  Make it a game ~ see who can pick up more trash, & reward the winner!  Become a responsible steward for these beautiful parks of ours.  And limit your time in them so as to limit your need to use the “facilities.” 

The main question to ask yourself, before visiting one of our National Parks during the shutdown is: Will I help the park or hurt the park more by my being there?

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks

Thanks for reading this (hopefully common sense-filled) post on “Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks.”  If you & your family really feel compelled to visit a National Park during this time: 1) Prepare to take your own trash out of the park for disposal, 2) Bring along extra trash bags (& gloves), 3) Leave your dog(s) at home, & 4) Limit your time in the park so as to avoid having to take a #2 (either in an overflowing Port-a-Potty or in the ground)!  Or ~ just wait until the parks re-open again…

Why Now is NOT Time to Visit Our National Parks, Girl Who Travels the World

Yosemite National Park.

xoxo Noelia

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