Famed Californian National Park sees legendary Joshua Trees vandalized amid government shutdown

Joshua Tree National Park forced to temporarily close after government shutdown chaos leaves California site overflowing with trash, human feces and damaged trees

The famed Joshua Tree National Park was forced to temporarily close its doors this week amid a spate of vandalism and sanitation issues that occurred in perpetuation of the government’s now 21 day shutdown.

For more than two weeks, dedicated volunteers and a drastically reduced staff-force worked around the clock to keep the park in pristine condition.

But day 18 of the shutdown appeared to be breaking point as vandals tore down several of the park’s revered Joshua trees.

Images of broken branches and dilapidated tree stumps caused an outcry on social media.

The Joshua Tree National Park in Death Valley, CA was forced to close its doors temporarily this week, after a concentration of vandalism and littering overran the capabilities of a diminished work force

The Joshua Tree National Park in Death Valley, CA was forced to close its doors temporarily this week, after a concentration of vandalism and littering overran the capabilities of a diminished work force

Images of the damaged and destroyed trees have caused an outcry on social media 

Images of the damaged and destroyed trees have caused an outcry on social media 

Illegal campers and unruly visitors also destroyed the park’s floor by driving off of the designated paths to craft their own roadways – knocking over Joshua trees in the process.

‘While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree 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,’ said spokesman for the park, George Land.

Land said the partial government shutdown has left the park’s workforce with only eight rangers to cover the 800,000 acre park.

Parks nationwide have struggled to deal with similar issues varying from incessant littering and overflowing public restrooms, to the rife vandalism of habitats.

‘I’ve been at a national park for every one of these shutdowns, so I know that there’s a possibility they’re going to happen and we tried to prepare for them,’ David Blacker, the Death Valley Natural History Association’s executive director, said.

‘We weren’t quite prepared for one to last this long.’

The park has just eight rangers to patrol the 1,200 mile stretch of the land. Graffiti has appeared throughout the park

The park has just eight rangers to patrol the 1,200 mile stretch of the land. Graffiti has appeared throughout the park

Illegal campers have also been damaging the park's floor by deviating from the designated roads and crafting their own paths in the delicate landscape

Illegal campers have also been damaging the park’s floor by deviating from the designated roads and crafting their own paths in the delicate landscape

Implications of the vandalism could last long after the governments closure, warned David Lamford, a director at the National Parks Conversations Association.

Lamford believes the man-made destruction could have a catastrophic knock-on effect.

‘The main story has been about poop, but I think there’s a much bigger story,’ he said to the Washington Post.

‘The amount of time it takes to heal can be on the geological scale.

‘It’s an incredibly fragile landscape that takes generations and generations to grow, and generations and generations to heal.

‘The resource impacts could be really dangerous. We’re reeling, and we’re all just kind of hoping that the worst hasn’t happened.’

Volunteers haul a truck load of trash at the park on January 6

Volunteers haul a truck load of trash at the park on January 6

A group dubbed the 'Toilet Paper Angels' have been helping to clear up overflowing restrooms and re-supplying sanitary products across the park

A group dubbed the ‘Toilet Paper Angels’ have been helping to clear up overflowing restrooms and re-supplying sanitary products across the park

The Joshua Tree will remain partially open thanks to third-party donations. Much of the facilities will stay shut until the government reopens

The Joshua Tree will remain partially open thanks to third-party donations. Much of the facilities will stay shut until the government reopens

A small number of volunteers, dubbed the ‘Toilet paper angels’ have been working at the park, collecting garbage, cleaning bathrooms and restocking sanitary supplies.

On Thursday, the park announced its own partial closure, saying that donations from a non-profit group and two hotels have allowed them to re-open their visitor center and some restrooms.

The donations should allow the facilities to stay open through to the end of January, or early February, but much of the park will remain closed.

William Bjorge, 58, and his wife Francesca Zonin, 56, had planned to camp in the park for two nights on a road trip from their home in Santa Cruz, California to Savannah, Georgia, but discovered the campsites had bee shut.

‘I´m hoping that these places that are affected really close down completely, because then it will really show everyone what damage this [shutdown] does,’ he said.

The park gets its name sake from the iconic Joshua trees found throughout its land. Experts warn the damage caused by the shutdown could be catastrophic

The park gets its name sake from the iconic Joshua trees found throughout its land. Experts warn the damage caused by the shutdown could be catastrophic

Bjorge isn’t alone in his opinion either.

‘Our national parks deserve better than an improvised patchwork of emergency care,’ said Diane Regas, CEO of the Trust for Public Lands, in a public letter to President Trump.

‘They need robust funding and full-time protection, or they should be closed.’

Last week, Trump announced the government shutdown could last months ‘or even years’ as he locks horns with Democrats over the funding of a wall to separate the US and Mexico.

He had promised to perpetuate the closure until Congress acquiesces to his $5.8 billion demand.

Though border crossings into the US have seen a sharp decline in the last few years, Trump stands firm that a concrete – or steel – wall is a necessity for stemming the perceived ‘humanitarian and national security crisis’ in the region.

Democratic leaders in Congress have refused to approve funding for additional border fencing, saying that it is an ineffective way to secure the border.

 

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