As the partial government shutdown nears its third week, California’s national parks have descended into scenes of decadent misuse, with reports of overflowing garbage, human waste, environmental damage, and even a prom dress being spotted at sites.
National parks like Yosemite, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree, among others, have strained under the weight of the nearly-two-week government shutdown, The Los Angeles Times reported. Campgrounds in these sites have been hit with vandalism, illegal camping and off-road driving that has reportedly damaged wildlife habitats.
Dakota Snider, 24, who lives and works in Yosemite Valley, described the scene as a "free-for-all."
"It's so heartbreaking. There is more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I've seen in my four years living here," Snider said.
National Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz said trash heaps left at campsites attract bears which increases the chance of a deadly encounter with campers. Elsewhere, vault toilets have backed up with no workers to pump out the waste.
In the absence of a full-time paid staff to patrol the parks, reserve crews and volunteers are doing their part to offset the damage by emptying dumpsters, replacing garbage bags in trash cans and scrubbing bathrooms. But some say more help is needed.
“We just can’t continue at the pace we have been at for the last 12 days,” said Sabra Purdy, a coordinator of volunteer cleanup efforts.
Joshua Tree’s campgrounds closed at noon Wednesday, while Yosemite National Park implemented time restrictions and roadside checkpoints. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, meanwhile, closed down their parks entirely on Wednesday, leaving employees unable to maintain roads and walking paths. Munoz said visitors who violate the parks’ closures will be cited.
Meanwhile, parks around the country, from national monuments in Washington to Lake Mead in Nevada have suffered the same fate, leaving city government to clean up the mess.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.