Joshua Tree Closes Campgrounds, Yosemite Limits Visitors as Government Shutdown Drags On

Guests make their way past Columbia Rock in Cook's Meadow in Yosemite, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

January 3, 2019

By Javier Panzar

National park officials are continuing to cut off access to areas in California’s national parks following reports of vandalism, illegal camping and human waste piling up while the government shutdown drags on.

Campgrounds at Joshua Tree National Park were set to close at noon Wednesday, park officials said, citing health and safety concerns over the park’s vault toilets, which are near capacity.

The park has experienced vandalism to buildings, while illegal camping and off-roading have damaged the park habitat, National Parks Service spokesman Andrew Munoz said.

Meanwhile, rangers at Yosemite National Park have set up a roadside checkpoint at the southern entrance to the park along California Highway 41. Only people with reservations for lodging or camping inside the park will be allowed entrance during peak visitation hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., park officials announced Wednesday.

Visitors have been relieving themselves behind buildings and along roadsides at the parks, creating health hazards, while the buildup of trash and litter has had a significant effect on the environment, Munoz said.

There is also concern that the increased trash could attract wildlife, including bears, to populated areas, increasing the risk of dangerous interactions between people and wildlife, he said.

Human feces and urine along Highway 41 in the south part of Yosemite led to the closure of the Mariposa Grove of redwoods as well as the Wawona and Hodgson Meadows campgrounds last week. Two snow play areas and all the park visitor centers remain closed.

Park officials said in a news release that additional facilities or areas in Yosemite National Park may close at any time for health and safety reasons.

At Joshua Tree, visitor centers, flush toilets, water-filling stations and dump stations are all closed because of the federal government’s partial shutdown. Vault toilets — the waterless bathrooms in which visitors can relieve themselves into a sealed container that is buried underground — had remained open. But with no workers to pump out the waste, those are being closed now as well.

The park had left the main gates open and let cars stream in for free, as there are no government employees to charge the typical $30-a-car entrance fee.

Rangers at both parks remain on duty and are enforcing closures. Individuals who violate closures are being cited, Munoz said.

The situation at Joshua Tree is being aided by a gang of local volunteers who gather daily to empty trashcans and dumpsters.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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