Can Visitors Be Trusted in Parks Without Staffing?

Note: I despise government shutdowns as ways to deal with political issues. So much money is wasted (invisibly) shutting down and starting up, so many people inside and out have their work and personal lives disrupted. So I understand why people want to write stories about how bad it is. Still..

In the Colorado Springs Gazette, I ran across a summary that mentioned this Time article.

Here are a couple of quotes:

Fullerton warned of possible dangers to visitors and local law enforcement, who may be deployed to parks with rangers on furlough. He also cited potential for serious damage to the parks themselves.

“If someone falls, gets lost or has any issue in a National Park or wildlife refuge, they’re on their own,” Fullerton tweeted.

In addition to possible dangers for police and visitors, Fullerton also cited the potential for major damage to the parks themselves.

“[Keeping parks open] also puts our parks at risk. No one to protect against damaging sensitive habitats, landscapes or historic sites. And trash will be a serious problem that will damage our public lands,” Fullerton wrote.

It looks like Time must troll Twitter accounts looking for news. An ex-Interior person in charge of Digital Strategy?

I know that the National Parks are “America’s best idea” and iconic, and so on, but many visitors who go to National Parks also visit BLM (another Interior agency) and Forest Service land. I’m not saying that there are no problems- as readers here know- anything but. Still 24/7, 365 days per year most by acres federal lands are absolutely open to anyone and millions of people use them without “damaging sensitive habitat or landscapes” and pack out their own trash.

This news item reminded me how amazing it is that in the 21st Century, we have federal lands that are open to the public for free, with relatively little external observation by law enforcement, and expect people to be careful, and behave responsibly. And incredibly, mostly, it works.

7 thoughts on “Can Visitors Be Trusted in Parks Without Staffing?”

  1. We were planning to spend our anniversary in Yosemite Valley when we learned that the shutdown was becoming a reality as of Dec 21 (our anniversary is the 22nd). We did some research and discovered that the park would be open for concessions, meaning we could go there and keep our reservations. The concessionaire was going to cover most trash collection. S&R would be limited. This sounded okay, so we headed out and everything seemed normal until we were walking up the pedestrian-only asphalt road to Mirror Lake and saw a black SUV speeding down the road, in and around the many people hiking there, headed for the exits. Florida plates, total impunity. I am still working for Uncle Sam and am on furlough. We are doing fine but I am very concerned about colleagues with relatively low salaries and few reserves who are really being hurt by this!

  2. These comments are a bit naive and unjustified; damage to public lands by todays level of public use is extensive, even though it may be according to plans and consequently be lauded, or defended, as “legal”. Impacts on wildlife, changes in human distribution, things like cutting firewood, garbage accumulation, …. and there are more, have a tighter lid on them in Parks than BLM/ FS lands, and even though they are boiling barely below the surface in Parks; uncontrolled use will spill over to significant impact.

  3. The answer to this question is no, you can’t run major public recreation sites without people to maintain them.

    From today’s Chronicle:

    Yosemite has closed several popular areas due to a rather disgusting public-health reason: There’s human feces and urine on the roads.
    Visitors to Yosemite National Park have taken to depositing their waste on the side of the park’s busy roads, as the park’s restrooms and visitor centers remain closed due to the partial federal government shutdown.
    The park itself has remained open since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, but without trash collection and a private place on-site to pass waste, roads have become blocked in more ways than one, the Los Angeles Times reported.

    WASHINGTON — Human feces, overflowing garbage, illegal off-roading and other damaging behavior in fragile areas were beginning to overwhelm some of the West’s iconic national parks on Monday, as a partial government shutdown left the areas open to visitors but with little staff on duty.
    “It’s a free-for-all,” Dakota Snider, 24, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley, said by telephone Monday, as Yosemite National Park officials announced closings of some minimally supervised campgrounds and public areas within the park that are overwhelmed.
    “It’s so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules then I’ve seen in my four years living here,” Snider said.
    National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum had said as the shutdown took hold that “national parks will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures.”
    In practice, that meant on Monday that many park toilets were closed or filled to overflowing, despite holiday crowds.

    Unsafe and resource-damaging behavior and horrendously unsanitary conditions – that’s what’s going to happen when you try to have large numbers of people visiting public lands without staff to operate and maintain the most basic of facilities to both serve those visitors and deal with their leavings in a modern fashion.

  4. Interesting.. here’s the story at Rocky Mountain
    They don’t seem to have the same problems but maybe because the roads aren’t open.
    I wonder whether each Park makes up its own mind about whether to close or not?

    “ESTES PARK, Colo. — Rocky Mountain National Park officials say they are closing restrooms and locking up trash bins in many locations, citing human waste and other concerns during the partial shutdown of the federal government.

    An update on the park’s website said park officials had concerns about wildlife and public health but provided few details.

    Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson wasn’t working Monday because of the shutdown and didn’t return a voicemail.

    Park officials have severely limited vehicle access at the main entrances because no crews are available to plow the roads after a snowstorm moved through the area.

    The website update said officials were closing the main roadways on the east side of the park because of the accumulated snowfall.

    The park remains open to tourists traveling by foot or bicycle.”

    It’s hard to find out things if the communications folks are furloughed.


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