Civilians Are Maintaining National Parks During the Government Shutdown

Not all heroes wear capes. During the current government shutdown, some civilians are following in the footsteps of Chris Cox, who famously mowed the lawn and did other upkeep on the National Mall throughout the extended 2013 shutdown.

This time, it’s ecologist Sabra Purdy and a team of fellow civilian volunteers who are maintaining Joshua Tree National Park, an iconic California site famous for its alien plant life.

While the government may be shut down, visitors are still flocking to national parks – sometimes on trips that have been months or years in the making. That’s having a devastating effect on parks with no restrooms, trash pickup or rangers available to provide advice, information and security.

Ill-mannered visitors are leaving trash and human waste by the side of the road, letting their dogs off-leash, setting off fireworks and disrespecting parks and wildlife alike. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Some parks are closing campgrounds and day use areas in the hopes of minimizing damage, some of which is entirely accidental but no less devastating, leaving scars that won’t be easy to fix.

The closures are a bummer for guests, as well as furloughed employees taking unplanned unpaid leave; federal employees may be able to recover lost wages when the shutdown ends, but that doesn’t help them right now.

Even while some members of the public are mistreating parks in the unsupervised environment of the shutdown, others have risen to the occasion. Purdy writes in the Washington Post that a group of volunteers is doing its best to care for the park, keeping public lands safe and clean while federal employees are barred from coming to work.

She notes an element of self-interest: The winter break is high season for tourism and her guiding business couldn’t take the hit of staying closed. The loss of revenue would hurt Purdy, as well as her employees, illustrating how the shutdown has lingering, far-ranging effects that its architects didn’t consider.

Purdy comments that the lengthy 2013 shutdown had a serious economic impact on the community — one residents would like to avoid repeating.

Joshua Tree isn’t the only place where volunteers are stepping up to clean bathrooms, deliver donated toilet paper, haul trash and keep an eye on things. Volunteers come from all walks of life, including retirees, businesspeople and youth. They’re organizing a schedule and soliciting donations of supplies from surrounding communities. Guests are still coming to appreciate one of America’s most amazing treasures, and friends of the National Park Service are doing their best to make those visits sustainable and enjoyable.

It’s inspiring to see people coming together to help out at national parks, but this shouldn’t even be an issue. This situation has been created by the racist and xenophobic agenda at the White House, with the president holding the entire country hostage with his insistence on funding a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. While lawmakers reached a bipartisan funding agreement last year, President Trump refused to take the deal –  and he’s threatening to turn down the new option offered by the Democrats as Congress reconvenes.

National parks can’t be supported by volunteers forever, and they freely admit that they’re having a tough time keeping up with the job. The government needs to get back to work, for the sake of thousands of federal employees and contractors and the millions of Americans who rely on them — and to give nature some peace and quiet.

Take Action!

Please sign this Care2 petition, and tell your senators: It’s time to take up the House bill to get the government up and running so our national parks personnel can get back to doing the work they love.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo credit: Christopher Michel/Creative Commons


Mary B
Mary B3 months ago

RK R Border security as proposed by past Dems is NOT THE SAME THING AS A WALL! It was actually useful and less expensive. The majority of Americans do NOT WANT A WALL! And I sure don't remember any of them shutting down the government to get that act passed.

Susanne R
Susanne R3 months ago

I wonder if trump has ever actually visited a national park. I don't imagine that he has. Civilians are maintaining the parks because, aside from the people who work there, they're the ones who care most about them! Personally, I'd like to see trump out there shoveling the feces and picking up the garbage and having a nasty encounter with an angry skunk. Maybe a bird would build a nest in his hair. Unfortunately, all he cares about is getting his stupid wall because Ann Coulter will be mad at him if he doesn't. He also cares about the funds that the parks generate by the fees paid by those who appreciate them.

berny p
berny p3 months ago

What a remenber of all in the US is the dedication of the workers of the national parks,they are hard working,knowledgeable,friendly . Someone is the white house SHOULD learn from them! Good luck to you all!

Caitlin L
Past Member 3 months ago

thank you for sharing

Michael Abdi
Michael Abdi3 months ago


Cindy M. D
Cindy M. D3 months ago

Many heartfelt thanks to those who care about our planet and are willing to clean up after those who don't seem to care at all...

Jan K
Jan S3 months ago

Thank you

Chad A
Chad A3 months ago


Janis K
Janis K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Ruth S
Ruth S3 months ago