Las Vegas Sun

February 21, 2019

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Volunteers help out at nearby national parks during shutdown

Grand Canyon Shutdown

Anna Johnson / AP

Tourists look at a sign informing them that the main visitor center at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona, is closed due to the partial government shutdown, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Many other parts of the park remained open and accessible to visitors including the lodges, shuttle buses and restaurants.

The government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, is the longest on record, causing national parks to rely on volunteers and donations to stay open.

The Death Valley National Park, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Las Vegas, was recently approved to tap into recreation fee money—funds normally used for park programming—to expand operations.

“We have a state highway that runs through the park, so we can’t just slam the gates shut and tell everyone to go home,” said David Blacker, Death Valley Natural History Association executive director.

Blacker is hopeful more areas of the park will open soon.

“Unfortunately, the moment you start changing things from people’s normal mode of behavior, bad things start to happen,” he said.

To help curb negative effects, the park’s non-government partners, including the Death Valley Lodging Company and volunteers, pitched in to clean restrooms. A donation from the Death Valley Natural History Association will fund employees so the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and its restrooms can remain open.

Vandalism and damage to wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park almost caused it to close on January 10, but by utilizing recreation fees, it was able to address sanitation issues and “bring on additional staff to ensure the protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred during the lapse of appropriations,” according to a Jan. 9 statement.

Closer to home at Lake Mead, the National Park Service said in a statement that it would “not be providing services for NPS-operated campgrounds” in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, “including maintenance, janitorial, bathrooms and trash removal.” Despite the lack of services, campground visitors will not be asked to leave unless safety concerns arise. Park guests are encouraged to “please pack out what you pack in.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.