Government Closures: Getting Overlooked


Anna Larsen, Staff Writer

The recent government shutdown from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019 received a great deal of press and criticism, mainly concerning government workers working without pay. Although this was an important issue for the media to cover, I noticed a lack of coverage regarding our U.S. national parks. Most people don’t realize that national parks are run by government employees, funding, and services, meaning whenever the government closes, most to all of those resources are taken away and don’t return until the government opens up again.

National parks require quite a bit of maintenance for proper upkeep from bathroom cleaning and trail maintenance to ensuring safety barriers and signs are in good shape. Not to mention, law enforcement officers and park rangers are the primary individuals who protect visitors during their time within the park. Without these necessary resources, once iconic and magnificent national parks can soon turn dangerous and destroyed.

I traveled to Joshua Tree National Park in Palm Desert, California over winter break. During our visit, the government had already been closed for eight days. Our trip was off to a great start as we were greeted with no entrance fee, but we didn’t realize that this was the first of many things that would be different about the park due to the government closure. As we drove further into the park, I saw more and more visitors wandering off marked trails into sensitive brush, taking pictures, and disregarding “no trespassing” signs. As we reached the rocky areas, thrill-seeking rock climbers scaled dangerous boulders, which would have otherwise been restricted if enforcement had been present.

Bathrooms were locked, drinking fountains were shut off, and garbage bins were overflowing to the max. The park was essentially a free-for-all, and the fact that all of its 1,235 square miles were without supervision certainly appealed to a lot of careless visitors. Nonetheless, we spent two lovely days looking on in awe at the beautifully jagged Joshua trees, grand rock formations, and wide open desert land.

A few days after we returned from the trip, I came across an online article with the title, “Visitors Chainsaw Iconic Joshua Trees in National Park During Gov’t Shutdown.” Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. I anticipated that with the park being unregulated for so long, it was only a matter of time before things would start going horribly wrong. This was the point at which I realized how much of a disservice the government closure was doing for our national parks. With no one there to regulate behavior, enforce rules, and keep visitors safe, it really had turned into the Wild West. National parks across the US are now struggling to recover.