States, busi­nesses keep na­tional parks run­ning

Va­ri­ety of groups chip in dur­ing fed­eral shut­down

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Doug Stan­glin

In many parts of the coun­try, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice is de­pend­ing on char­ity, non-profit busi­nesses, con­ces­sion­aires and the kind­ness of strangers to keep its doors open dur­ing the govern­ment shut­down.

Un­like pre­vi­ous fed­eral shut­downs, the na­tional parks have not tech­ni­cally closed, yet are not be­ing staffed by park em­ploy­ees.

In an ironic twist, vis­i­tors are flock­ing to the parks more than ever since the shut­down be­cause there is no one to work the en­trance booths and the sites are es­sen­tially free. The re­sult: Piles of trash on the Na­tional Mall, over­flow­ing toi­lets at Joshua Tree, traf­fic jams at Se­quoia and Kings Canyon na­tional parks.

In pre­vi­ous shut­downs, the parks sim­ply closed their doors. Not this time. Don Fine­frock, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South Florida Na­tional Parks Trust, said there was “quite a bit of back­lash” over past shut­downs when tourists, who had long planned their vis­its, found the front gates shut­tered and the vis­i­tor cen­ters locked.

He says po­lit­i­cal and “busi­ness con­sid­er­a­tions” were key to keep­ing the parks open.

Zion Na­tional Park has logged more than 10,000 vis­i­tors a day dur­ing the hol­i­days.

To deal with prob­lems at a num­ber of na­tional parks around the coun­try, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice has signed more than 40 agree­ments since the shut­down with a num­ber of con­ces­sion­ers, part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tions and states to pro­vide var­i­ous vis­i­tor ser­vices, in­clud­ing trash re­moval and ser­vic­ing re­strooms, said Jeremy Bar­num, act­ing as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the NPS.

The agree­ments in­clude The Friend of Vicks­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park do­nat­ing funds for es­sen­tial ser­vices at the Vicks­burg Mil­i­tary Park, while New York state is pro­vid­ing funds to op­er­ate the Statue of Lib­erty Na­tional Mon­u­ment, Bar­num says.

Ari­zona is pro­vid­ing funds for re­stroom clean­ing, trash re­moval, and snow re­moval on walk­ways and trails at Grand Canyon Park, while Con­ces­sioner Guest Ser­vices, Inc. has pro­vided por­ta­ble toi­lets at sev­eral lo­ca­tions around the Na­tional Mall in Wash­ing­ton. At Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, Xan­terra Parks and Re­sorts is pro­vid­ing fund­ing for the groom­ing of snow-cov­ered roads dur­ing the shut­down.

In South Florida, the Florida Na­tional Parks As­so­ci­a­tion cut a deal with the park ser­vice to keep open the area’s four ma­jor na­tional parks: Big Cy­press Na­tional Pre­serve, Bis­cayne Na­tional Park, Dry Tor­tu­gas and Ever­glades Na­tional Park.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, at the Get­tys­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park, the Get­tys­burg Foun­da­tion, the non-profit, ed­u­ca­tional part­ner that owns and op­er­ates the vis­i­tors cen­ter, is tak­ing up the slack.

Brian Shaf­fer, the Get­tys­burg Foun­da­tion’s vice pres­i­dent of fa­cil­i­ties, said work­ers each day are serv­ing two of the five com­fort sta­tions, which are re­stroom and in­for­ma­tion cen­ter com­bi­na­tions, ac­cord­ing to Pen­nLive.

In Utah, where the state ini­tially con­trib­uted $80,000 to keep up ba­sic ser­vices at Zion Na­tional Park, the Zion Na­tional Park For­ever Project has taken over tem­po­rary fund­ing this week, com­mit­ting $2,000 a day for ba­sic ser­vice, like trash col­lec­tion and re­stroom main­te­nance, into the week­end.

Af­ter Satur­day, says Ly­man Hafen, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the For­ever Project, the state and the non­profit will have to de­cide who will keep pick­ing up the tab.

“These are na­tional trea­sures and they shouldn’t be man­aged at the whim of any kind of govern­ment dys­func­tion,” said Hafen, ac­cord­ing to KUER ra­dio in Utah.

At Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park, pri­vate com­pa­nies have picked up some of the main­te­nance nor­mally done by fed­eral work­ers. The con­trac­tors that op­er­ate park tours by snow­mo­bile, buses and vans are groom­ing trails, haul­ing trash and re­plac­ing toi­let pa­per at pit toi­lets and re­strooms along their routes.

Nearly all roads in­side Yel­low­stone are nor­mally closed for win­ter, mean­ing most vis­i­tors at this time of the year ac­cess park at­trac­tions like Old Faith­ful or the Grand Canyon of the Yel­low­stone through guides.

“It’s def­i­nitely not our pref­er­ence – the park ser­vice does a good job do­ing their thing and we hate to see them out of work,” said Travis Watt, gen­eral man­ager of See Yel­low­stone Alpen Guides based in West Yel­low­stone, Mon­tana. “But it’s some­thing we can han­dle.”

Na­tional Park Foun­da­tion pres­i­dent Will Shafroth calls the as­sis­tance by lo­cal part­ners and non­prof­its a “na­tional phe­nom­e­non” that traces back to the 2013 shut­down when some states, no­tably Utah and Ari­zona, stepped in to pro­vide money to get parks up and run­ning.

He says vol­un­teers are crit­i­cal for lo­cal parks but that it can be a bit “chal­leng­ing” when such groups weigh in dur­ing a shut­down. Help­ing out with over­flow­ing trash cans or a toi­let pa­per short­age at a park is one thing, but when groups get in­volved in is­sues in­volv­ing health and safety that might re­quires ex­tra con­trac­tors, “then you start blur­ring the line be­tween what would be safe and le­gal.”

Phil Francis, chair of The Coali­tion to Pro­tect Amer­ica’s Na­tional parks, called on the ad­min­is­tra­tion to close all parks be­cause of re­ports of “dam­age to our ir­re­place­able re­sources” at parks.

“Pres­i­dent Trump took re­spon­si­bil­ity for cre­at­ing this mess and it will be Na­tional Park Ser­vice em­ploy­ees clean­ing it up when they get back to work,” he said.

AN­DREW CA­BALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/GETTY IM­AGES

The White House is seen in the back­ground as trash lays un­col­lected on the Na­tional Mall due to the par­tial shut­down of the U.S. govern­ment.

MARK WIL­SON/GETTY IM­AGES

Trash builds up along the Na­tional Mall as trash col­lec­tors are off work dur­ing the shut­down.

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