A sign placed by staff is posted on a temporary barricade at a closed campground at Joshua Tree National Park on Jan. 4 in Joshua Tree National Park. Mario Tama / Getty Images
“By immediately utilizing revenue generated by recreation fees, National Park Service officials have been able to avert a temporary closure of Joshua Tree National Park that had been previously scheduled for January 10,” the park said in a statement.
The park had originally said it would close temporarily in order to repair damage done to the unique desert ecosystem by unsupervised visitors who had created new roads and destroyed the protected Joshua trees. Instead, the park remained open and even restored access to campgrounds that had been closed early in the month when toilets reached capacity.
This is just a minuscule example of what #GovernmentShutdown will do to U.S. precious National Parks … #JoshuaTree has turned into a four wheel driving circuit with tree cutting along the way … pic.twitter.com/8lUxBCMCWb
— Mario Picazo (@picazomario) January 10, 2019
The park was able to avoid closing because of a controversial Interior Department decision to allow parks to use visitor fees to address the maintenance and safety issues that have arisen as the parks remained open to the public while a majority of their staff has been furloughed.
“National Park Service officials have determined that by using Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to immediately bring back park maintenance crews to address sanitation issues, the park will be able to maintain some visitor services, including reopening the campgrounds. The park will also bring on additional staff to ensure the protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred during the lapse of appropriations,” Joshua Tree said.
Areas that have been closed will be accessible to park visitors starting on Thursday, January 10, including campgrounds, Lost Horse Mine and Keys View roads, Rattlesnake Canyon Area, and Joshua Tree Visitor Center. Other visitor centers remain closed.https://t.co/wAh4gei9G4
— Joshua Tree NPS (@JoshuaTreeNPS) January 10, 2019
Some park advocates are concerned that tapping into visitor fees, which the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act earmarks for special projects like habitat restoration or new programs to enhance the visitor experience, would worsen the budget shortfall faced by many national parks. Using that money to run the parks during the shutdown could potentially impact summer hiring programs or long term projects and deep maintenance work already planned out, National Parks Traveler explained.
“Some of these projects have involved years of organization and planning, so the administration’s political pressure for superintendents to use those funds is throwing all of that work in the trash,” National Parks Conservation Association Director of Budget and Appropriations John Garder said.
It is unclear how long parks might need to run on these fees. The shutdown will become the longest in U.S. government history if the government does not reopen by this coming Saturday, The New York Times reported. This seems unlikely, as attempts by Senate Republicans to broker a deal to reopen the government while continuing the discussion of funding for President Donald Trump’s desired border wall fell apart when Trump’s team indicated he would not agree. The President is considering diverting money earmarked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers following last year’s hurricanes and wildfires to build the wall, The New York Times also reported Thursday.