The former superintendent of Joshua Tree national park has said it could take hundreds of years to recover from damage caused by visitors during the longest-ever government shutdown.
“What’s happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years,” Curt Sauer said at a rally over the weekend, according to a report from the Desert Sun. Sauer retired in 2010 after running the park for seven years.
The park reopened Monday after the record 35-day shutdown, and park workers returned to a state of chaos, including damaged trees, graffiti and ruined trails. The reduced ranger supervision during the shutdown saw increased vandalism at the park, causing officials to announce on 8 January that Joshua Tree would temporarily close. It was announced a day later that officials were able to use recreation fee revenue to avoid the closure.
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Read more“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 that have precipitated the closure,” said park spokesman George Land in the news release.
The government shutdown left hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed, forcing many national parks to operate without rangers. Volunteers hauled out trash and cleaned toilets – but in a park covering 1,235 square miles, it wasn’t enough to stop damage from visitors to the park who did not heed warnings to take extra care.
The decision to keep national parks open with reduced staff was met with criticism. Stories of destruction that came out of Joshua Tree during the shutdown were devastating.
“There are about a dozen instances of extensive vehicle traffic off roads and in some cases into wilderness,” David Smith, the current Joshua Tree national park superintendent, told National Parks Traveler after announcing the need to close. “We have two new roads that were created inside the park. We had destruction of government property with the cutting of chains and locks for people to access campgrounds. We’ve never seen this level of out-of-bounds camping. Everyday use area was occupied every evening.”
“Joshua trees were actually cut down in order to make new roads,” he added.
A barrier blocks a campground at the park during the shutdown. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesThe local community is “fed up” with the fact that the park was left open during the shutdown, said John Lauretig, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Joshua Tree, at Saturday’s “Shutdown the Shutdown for Joshua Tree National Park” rally. The group organized volunteers who helped with the cleanup.
“The local community is fed up with our parks being held hostage and the fact that it’s open and partially staffed is not good for the park, it’s not good for the public and it’s not good for the local community here,” Lauretig said.
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Read moreThe National Park service did not immediately respond a request for additional comment on Monday.
If the government ends up shutting down again, Lauretig said the park should be closed completely to prevent further damage, adding, “If the government doesn’t fund or staff the parks appropriately, then they should just close the parks to protect the parks and protect the people.”