After the federal government shut down on Dec. 21, National Parks Service workers were furloughed, but Yosemite National Park did not close. In fact, it is currently more open than ever, with the $35 park access fee waived and entrance booths bearing a “Pass On Thru” sign. People are indeed passing on thru, to truly gross effect.
The park is staffed by around 800 Parks Service employees during normal winters, but the shutdown has stripped that number down to 50 or so “essential personnel,” mostly emergency services workers. A host of independent concessionaires operate within the park, so places like the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwanhee) and the Ansel Adams Gallery are open for business. You can still get food at Yosemite Village, though the bulk of people tasked with maintaining Yosemite are out of work at the moment. Combine that shortage with seasonally aberrant crowds (a group which included my family and me), and you have a recipe for a whole lot of poops where they shouldn’t be (not mine though).
Despite the cold weather, the park was as full as I’ve ever seen it when I went for a day trip last week. Outside’s Chris Van Leuven, a local, compared it to a peak-season holiday weekend, another to “4th of July-level traffic.” Traffic gnarled the valley loop road throughout the day, and tour busses clogged parking lots. There was a 15-minute line outside the Bridalveil Falls bathrooms at 10 a.m.—which is longer and earlier than usual though not atypical in its existence—because only one toilet was open. That toilet smelled like a family of skunks had shit themselves, died, and then been buried by a mountain of human crap.
Trash adorned every trail: Starbucks cups, energy bar wrappers, a confusing amount of discarded cold-weather gear. Most ominous were the mounds of toilet paper. On the side of the trail up to Vernal Falls and at other spots in the valley, I saw at least half a dozen soiled toilet paper tombstones, and while I thankfully did not witness any poops firsthand, there were reports of free-range turds. The south entrance was closed yesterday because of the poops, and several areas within the park are closed, again, because of the poops.
“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,” a resident told the Associated Press.
“The biggest problem is the lack of restrooms,” local climber Ken Yager wrote. “There’s a lot of toilet paper out there. People stop at one bathroom, and it’s locked. Then they go to another, and by that time, they can no longer hold it in.”
“With restrooms closed, some visitors are opting to deposit their waste in natural areas adjacent to high-traffic areas, which creates a health hazard for other visitors,” National Parks Service spokesman Andrew Munoz said in an statement. Basically: lots of doo doo.
John Garder, senior budget director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, offered a bleak prognosis:
We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts. We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety.
It’s really a nightmare scenario.
Reports from Joshua Tree paint a similarly depressing picture. National parks are not the most vital services threatened by this moronic shutdown, but they throw into relief the utter absurdity of economically straining employees and others because of one man’s prolonged hissy fit over not getting his Christmas wish—a $5 billion monument to American racism.
If you have any stories from the National Parks during this shutdown, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.