Joshua Tree packed with visitors despite government shutdown

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. (KABC) -- The New Year's holiday is typically one of the busiest times of the year at Joshua Tree National Park, and as that holiday weekend approaches, it would appear that this year is no different despite the government shutdown.

"I don't think it has (affected the crowds)," said Jeff Frien,d who traveled to the park from Sacramento with his stepdaughter Jessica Lacourse. "People like to see pretty things, and this is pretty."

In past shutdowns, the gates to the park have been blocked by barriers. But not this year. Still, just because you can now get into the park without paying doesn't mean it's going to be the easiest experience.

"If you need help, there's not really much here for you," Lacourse said.

She added the lack of service kept them from being more adventurous with their hiking.

"Just staying a little closer to the roads, not really taking any risks," she said.

A banner across the top of the National Parks Service Joshua Tree website reads: "During the federal government shutdown, Joshua Tree will remain open. Campgrounds and vault toilets will remain open. All other services will be closed. In an emergency, call 911."

There's no one to provide guidance. No one to hand out maps. And no one to sort out any disputes between park visitors over who has the rights to a particular campsite.

"When we got to the camp last night there was a guy who was in our spot," Friend said. "We knocked on the door and let him know that we had a reservation. He was a little grumpy, but he moved."

And all the bathrooms that require plumbing are closed.

"We checked ahead of time and the vault toilets are still open, which isn't sexy," Lacourse said. "But it's not an issue when you have your own materials and toilet paper and stuff. That's just kind of built into camping."

Fortunately, even though there aren't staff members cleaning and stocking the bathrooms that are open, volunteers are picking up the slack.

"We're on day seven of the shutdown," said Joshua Tree resident Seth Zaharias, who had a roll of toilet paper in his hand. "We've all been cleaning the bathrooms, bleaching them and keeping them sanitary, stocking them with toilet paper and taking the trash out."

Park rangers are still on duty, making sure visitors obey proper parking laws. But the volunteers who are helping to keep Joshua Tree National Park open during the government shutdown are asking visitors to do what's necessary to be safe, protect the park and take care of themselves.

"The park is still open to the public, which is wonderful," Zaharias said. "These are our public lands, which I think is great. That being said, you need to self-regulate at this time."
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