US national park closes amid govt shutdown

Staff load trash onto a truck near Joshua Tree National Park in California. (Reuters pic)

LOS ANGELES: Joshua Tree National Park in California will be closed at least temporarily so that staffers can grapple with sanitation and maintenance issues that have mushroomed during the partial government shutdown, officials said on Tuesday.

The popular preserve about 100 miles (160km) east of Los Angeles in the California desert will shut its gates to all visitors as of Thursday morning, the National Park Service said in a written statement. It hopes to reopen them in the coming days.

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

“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,” the NPS said.

US national parks have not been given a blanket order to close during the budget showdown between President Donald Trump and Democrats in the House of Representatives, now in its 18th day, that has hit a broad swath of the US government.

Joshua Tree had remained open, with many visitors taking advantage of the lack of staff to enter without paying a US$30 fee. Volunteers took on the task of picking up trash.

Twitter users reacted with disgust at the idea that visitors would damage the beloved park.

“Taking a tree is a felony!!! These are nature’s to behold. This should have happened in December!” Twitter user @switchbackimage said.

Yosemite National Park said on Twitter earlier this week that the John Muir and Mist Trails to Vernal and Nevada Falls, as well as Tuolumne and Merced Groves, would be closed beginning Jan 5 for “safety and human waste reasons.”

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah tweeted that its visitor centre would remain open until Jan 10 due to a donation from a nonprofit group.

A growing proportion of Americans blame Trump for the partial shutdown that will cut off paychecks to federal workers this week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.

The president has vowed to keep the government partially closed until Congress approves funding for an expanded barrier along the US border with Mexico.