As the government shutdown stretches on, more and more US citizens are feeling the effects of the disruption. While national museums like the Smithsonian museums are closed, some of the national parks remain accessible to visitors, thanks to a shutdown contingency plan first put into place by the Department of the Interior in 2018. Unfortunately, while the parks are open, their employees are furloughed, meaning that many key services aren’t being performed.
If you plan on visiting one of the open national parks, or just want to support NPS employees during the shutdown, here are five ways to help out.
#1: Help Cleaning Up
Most national parks have skeleton crews (or no crews at all) protecting and preserving their lands. Joshua Tree, for instance, has only eight staff law enforcement staff members protecting the entire 1,235 square mile park. As the shutdown continues on, the staff at Joshua Tree is struggling to keep up with normal park usage (e.g., overflowing pit toilets and trash cans) as well as damage from people abusing the land by driving off road, cutting down trees, and marking areas with graffiti.
One of the best ways to support your national park is by organizing a crew to clean up or joining an already scheduled group. You can help emptying trash cans, picking up garbage from people who have been using the parks, cleaning out pit toilets and latrines, and clearing brush.
#2: Donate If You Visit (Or Even If You Don’t)
As of January 6, the National Park Service announced that it would have to use entrance fees to support operations at its open sites. The entrance fees are typically used to support visitor services, rather than operations like trash collection and road maintenance.
While some have derided this move as illegal, the Park Service has insisted that the move is necessary to protect the land as the shutdown stretches on. Regardless of whether or not the decision is accepted, what we do know is that the parks can use some monetary support. If you choose to visit any national parks, or even if you don’t, you can donate to a specific park or to the other National Parks Foundation as a whole. Every dollar will be appreciated!
#3: Provide Discounted Goods or Services to Employees
The National Parks Service employees are either working without a paycheck or aren’t able to report to work and aren’t earning money. Regardless of the situation, they’re not earning the money they need to support their families.
In this time of need, it can be very helpful to provide discounted goods or services to parks employees. If you or your business are near a national park, you could bring food or other donations, like trash bags, toilet paper, and more, to the employees. If your business provides other services, like medical services, car services, or anything else, providing a monetary discount to employees will go a long way towards helping them.
#4: Pass Out Information to Visitors
Most of the national parks only have a few staff members on hand to help but are still open to visitors. While this leaves the parks open to damage from disrespectful visitors, it also leaves the visitors themselves open to danger. There have been seven deaths in the national parks since the shutdown started and unfamiliar visitors may unknowingly put themselves in danger because there aren’t people available to answer questions.
One of the ways that you can help out at the parks is to pass out information to visitors, especially if you’re familiar with the park. You can hand out maps to visitors who drive in or set up near the visitor centers to answer questions about safe routes. This will help protect visitors and ensure they have a good time while they enjoy the parks.
#5: Practice Leave-No-Trace Principles
If you choose to visit any of the national parks while they are understaffed, be sure to practice leave-no-trace principles. That means you need to carry out anything you carry in. While you should do this every time you visit a park, it’s especially important now. Bring trash bags and help pick up garbage you see from other users if you can. Don’t bring dogs to areas that are typically forbidden to dogs and stick to the trails. While the men and women that normally protect our land aren’t able to, you can do a lot to protect it yourself.
What Did We Miss?
Do you have other suggestions of ways to help support our national parks during the shutdown? Please let us know in the comments.