Campgrounds close at Joshua Tree National Park as government shutdown continues

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. (KABC) -- Amid the ongoing government shutdown, Joshua Tree National Park's famous campgrounds are now closed because of growing health and safety concerns.

It was almost business as usual for visitors on Wednesday. Despite the shutdown, the park still offered pristine desert scapes and clean restrooms -- all thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers working to help keep it that way.

"Two days ago, we took 2,500 pounds trash out of the park. We're making sure that our home, the place that we love, the economic backbone of our community, does not get trashed in this shutdown. I refuse to let the federal government trash my home," said Seth Zaharias, owner of Cliffhanger Guides.

Since the shutdown began 12 days ago, volunteers have been fanning out across the national park to haul away trash and stock public restrooms with the essentials.

Friends of Joshua Tree and other local businesses have raised $6,000 for the volunteer cleanup effort, purchasing toilet paper, gloves and cleaning spray.

"Everybody is taking great care of the park, and the restrooms are not disarrayed and trash isn't everywhere, obviously. So, I was impressed people do care," said Brian Tracey.

Even so, Tracey and his family had to cut their camping trip to the park short. On Monday, the National Park Service announced it would close the campgrounds due to health and safety concerns as pit toilets reach capacity. The agency also cited offroading violations and other infractions for the closure. It's news that came a little too late for Christine Goss, who drove in from Reno, Nevada.

"We had reservations and everything. Apparently the 31st they sent an email, which we were already in the area... saying canceled, everything is shutdown," said Goss.

Jim and Joyce Berry shared in Goss' frustration. The couple drove 13 hours to reach the park late Tuesday night, only to learn they had to pack up and leave by Wednesday afternoon.

"I was hoping that we'd still be able to use the facilities here but that didn't workout," Jim said.

For now, Joshua Tree National Park will remain open to the public during the day. Volunteers say as long as the park is open, they'll be there to cleanup.

"We are committed to this everyday until the shutdown ends," Zaharias said. "I will not let my park get destroyed."
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