Joshua Tree Is Not Closing After All. The Park Service Says Volunteers Are To Thank

(Courtesy National Park Service)

After previously announcing that Joshua Tree National Park was officially too disgusting to stay open, National Park Service officials said they've averted a closure at the popular park. In fact, some areas of the park that had been closed off, including campgrounds, will be reopened Thursday.

Earlier this week, officials at Joshua Tree said NPS was activating funds designed to support future projects to pay for much-needed cleanup, repairs and safety enforcement at U.S. parks as the government shutdown continues. Joshua Tree was to be closed at 8 a.m. "to allow park staff to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations."

But on Wednesday, NPS announced the newly available money would make it possible to keep some visitor services going, including reopening all the campgrounds at the roughly 800,000-acre park.

"All areas that have been recently closed will be accessible to park visitors starting on Thursday," park officials said in a press release, noting Stirrup Tank Road, Lost Horse Mine Road and Trail, Key's View Road, and the Rattlesnake Canyon Picnic Area and Road in particular.

"The park will also 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," NPS said.

Park Service officials had cited "incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees" as the reason for initially deciding to close the park off to visitors.

Since the shutdown began on Dec. 22, federal workers stopped cleaning and restocking restrooms at the park, and some vault toilets at the park couldn't be emptied, creating a health hazard.

Volunteer Alexandra Degen cleans a restroom during the government shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NPS officials also thanked volunteers at the park, who have stepped in during the shutdown to pick up trash, clean restrooms and remind visitors to respect park land.

"Their efforts have contributed significantly to the reopening of campgrounds and restoring access to other closed areas of Joshua Tree National Park," officials said.

The park is looking a lot better in recent days thanks to the work of volunteers, according to John Lauretig of the nonprofit Friends of Joshua Tree. While the destruction of the park's namesake trees and other damage have made headlines during the shutdown, he said it's not uncommon behavior that park officials have to deal with.

"If we allow these violations to take place all the time, they have repercussions down the road," Lauretig said in an interview Thursday with Take Two host A Martinez. "The best thing we can do is educate the public and make them good stewards of our public lands."

The closure-but-then-not-a-closure threw some local businesses that operate in the park for a loop, Lauretig explained, including desert excursion and rock climbing companies. At least one such business had to cancel reservations after NPS' earlier closure announcement. But then the park wasn't closing, so they quickly called customers back, hoping they hadn't changed their plans.

While the shutdown and resulting inconveniences at Joshua Tree have brought some challenges, it hasn't had a drastic impact on the local economy the way the 2013 government shutdown did, according to Lauretig. Back then, the park was completely closed and the city of Twentynine Palms and other nearby communities felt the pain immediately. Restaurants laid off workers, businesses reduced hours of operation and the community "was really like a ghost town," he said.

UPDATES:

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with information from an interview with a park advocate.

This article was originally published at 8:40 a.m.


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