The National Mall in Washington, D.C.
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January 04, 2019 04:35 PM

Many national parks have remained open during the ongoing federal government shutdown — but they aren’t properly staffed.

The resulting piles of trash, overflowing toilets and even an abandoned prom dress and champagne bottles in Joshua Tree National Park (surprise!) are the stuff of a park service staffer’s nightmare.

“Leaving the parks open without these essential staff is equivalent to leaving the Smithsonian museums open without any staff to protect the priceless [artifacts],” wrote Jonathan B. Jarvis, a former park service director, in a Thursday column for The Guardian.

“Yet as a result of the government shutdown, which furloughed most park staff, this is what has happened,” Jarvis continued. “It is a violation of the stewardship mandate, motivated only by politics. While the majority of the public will be respectful, there will always be a few who take advantage of the opportunity to do lasting damage.”

Previous government shutdowns caused National Park Service sites to close, but this time the contingency plan was to keep parks open but with a skeleton staff.

The government shut down, which began on Dec. 22, is taking its toll. Staff or no, the parks receive an enormous volume of traffic — almost 331 million people visited in 2017 , according to CNN.

With no one to empty out the waste, toilets are nearing capacity or overflowing at a number of parks. On top of that, vandalism, trash and off-road driving are damaging the surrounding habitat at parks in California, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have gone so far as to close completely because of these issues.

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A closed and blocked campground at Joshua Tree National Park in California
Caution tape blocks urinals in the men's restroom, in Everglades National Park, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP/REX/Shutterstock

At Joshua Tree, not only are necessary service stations closed, no one is manning the gates. Instead, vehicles are able to pass through without paying the standard $30 entry fee, per the L.A. Times. And at Rocky Mountain National Park, staffers can’t keep roads cleared of snow so roadways located above 8,000 feet have been closed until it melts, according to CNN.

While the situation will become increasingly dire as the shutdown continues, volunteers and charities are trying to keep the parks clean. The National Park Service has created more than 40 agreements with states, concessioners and organizations to provide important services until staffers can resume their jobs, according to USA Today.

Arizona provided monies so Grand Canyon Park will have functioning bathrooms and trash removal. The Florida National Parks Association also made an agreement to keep four big parks open, USA Today reports.

On a more localized level, volunteers took away more than 40 garbage bags of trash in their own vehicles from Joshua Tree on New Year’s Day, according to the L.A. Times.

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But it may not be enough: More park sites are expected to close because of the flood of unmonitored visitors.

Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National parks, explained that it’s up to President Donald Trump‘s administration to fix the problem by closing all parks until the shutdown ends and employees return, according to USA Today.

The shutdown was triggered by Trump’s insistence over funding for his proposed border wall.

Francis told USA Today: “President Trump took responsibility for creating this mess, and it will be National Park Service employees cleaning it up when they get back to work.”

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