It’s cringe-inducing to read about the situation at many of our national parks over the last couple of weeks, one result of the Trump administration’s partial but wasteful federal government shutdown. Because of the forced furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal government employees, many national parks have been essentially trashed, as human waste and garbage began to accumulate, then to overflow.
Not only that, but with no supervision, illegal off-roading and other activities have caused damage that will require expensive reparation work. Squabbles between visitors have been reported, with no rangers on site to settle them.
“It’s a free-for-all,” Dakota Snider, who lives and works in Yosemite National Park, told The Associated Press. “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.”
Volunteers have stepped in to try to help, but theirs can’t equal the work done by our well-trained and dedicated national park rangers. And volunteers can’t enforce park rules.
The Trump administration, perhaps fearing the public response that occurred during previous shutdowns, ordered that parks largely remain open to visitors despite the furloughs. That means coming and going without paying entrance fees and without the supervision that park rangers would usually provide. Officials can close the parks if problems get out of hand, becoming threats to health and safety — after the damage has been done. It will be more costly to clean the parks than it would have been to keep them fully staffed.
Closer to home, the shutdown is affecting national parks across northeast North Carolina, WAVY of Hampton Roads, Va., reported last week. The situation is much the same, with parks remaining unsupervised and unserviced but open.
North Carolina has 14 national parks, sites, heritage centers or trails, stretching from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks. Until the foolish shutdown is ended and park staffs have a chance to get their bearings, we suggest avoiding them, or at least approaching with caution. Fortunately, city, county and state parks remain unaffected.
No doubt some will note that only a quarter of the federal government has been shut down, and those functions defined as “essential” services remain open.
But man does not live by bread alone. Defining our national parks — maintained by tax money we’ve already paid — as “non-essential” seems short-sighted. Many would like to take advantage of the season to appreciate the natural beauty enshrined in what documentary producer Ken Burns has called “America’s best idea,” but the shutdown will cheat them of the opportunity to do so safely and hygienically.
Shutting the government down, no matter who does it, is a detrimental tactic that costs us more in the long run and leaves the U.S. looking like a banana republic. Holding the budget hostage to non-negotiable demands isn’t an artful ploy, but a failure of persuasion and deliberative power. We hope the 2019 Congress will bring sanity to the process and bring the shutdown to an end before it costs us even more.