Whenever someone I meet in my travels asks me the best thing about the United States, the National Parks system is always the first thing that immediately comes to mind. There are plenty of places in the world that have incredible national parks, but the National Parks of the USA are special in their breadth and scope. Rock formations and rainforests, caves and canyons, islands and geysers and volcanoes and mountains… there’s something for everyone, representing the most incredible of Mother Nature’s offerings and welcoming over 300 million visitors per year.
Like everyone who love the National Parks system, I am heartbroken to read about the damage being caused to the parks by unsupervised visitors during the government shutdown. Trash overflows the rubbish bins, and let’s not even mention the toilets. Worse, there have been reports of vandals cutting the endangered namesake trees of Joshua Tree National Park in order to create access for their 4WD vehicles. Even during normal operating, there are many instances of graffiti and carved rocks from people who are too inconsiderate to follow Leave No Trace principles, so I can only imagine how much worse it is at the moment.
If you are also devastated by the destruction these thoughtless visitors are doing to some of the world’s most stunning sites, here are some ways you can help:
DON’T VISIT. The best thing you can do during the shutdown is just to stay out of the parks. Even if you are an experienced camper who knows how to pack out everything you bring in, the parks don’t currently have the resources to handle visitors. Moreover, the shutdown means that visitor fees that help maintain the park are not being collected, which will make recovery more difficult once the shutdown ends.
DONATE. On that note, the National Park Foundation has created the Parks Restoration Fund. This non-profit fund will help assess the damage done to our beloved parks after the shutdown and allocate funds where they are needed most to try and get the parks back on track. There are also a few parks for which third-party organisations such as the state government have stepped in to help, so looking into donations toward those groups can also be beneficial.
VOLUNTEER. If you’re a hands-on helper, there are plenty of volunteer groups getting together to do what they can to minimise the damage of less considerate visitors. Reach out to a local organisation and make a plan to pick up trash, clean restrooms, or take on other duties while parks employees are furloughed. Or, sign up to volunteer officially at your local park after the shutdown.