(Gray News) – California’s Joshua Tree National Park has remained open during the partial government shutdown, but the largely unsupervised federal lands have taken a beating.
Overflowing garbage and human waste have been reported. People illegally driving into areas where vehicles are normally banned have damaged the fragile ecosystem and cut down the park’s iconic Joshua trees.
“There are about a dozen instances of extensive vehicle traffic off roads and in some cases into wilderness,” Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith told National Parks Traveler. "Joshua trees were actually cut down in order to make new roads.”
The park covers 1,235 square miles and has about 20 different entrances, making it hard for eight rangers to monitor everything that’s going on within its borders.
"We have 120 employees in the park, plus 30 associates that work for Great Basin Institute, the majority of whom are in the park every day," Smith said, referring to normal staffing when there’s not a shutdown. "Those are the folks that are in the campgrounds and in the day-use areas and doing science. So you’ve got 100 sets of eyes in the park every day with folks contacting visitors."
The national park was able to remain open after freeing up enough money from recreation fees to prevent the closure of outdoor areas.
Maintenance staff are working on the cleanup and dealing with problems created by people’s illegal activities in the park.
The park gained new-found popularity in 1987 with the release of U2′s “Joshua Tree” album, which featured a picture of the band inside the park and one of the trees on the back cover.
The album sold more than 10 million copies in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and 25 million worldwide.