Visitors at national parks across the country are witnessing mountains of trash, overflowing toilets and damaged property as several sites remain open during the government shutdown. Nearly 16,000 employees are furloughed at the National Park Service and most of its maintenance and visitor services.
Two groups are calling for an investigation of the U.S. Department of the Interior by the Office of the Inspector General, into what they say is a reckless decision by the department to keep many parks open without enough staff to ensure visitors and natural resources are protected.
In previous shutdowns in 2013 and 1995, all parks were closed to the public.
Kristen Brengel, vice president for government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the last thing the department should be doing is inviting more people into potentially dangerous situations.
To address some of the problems, the National Park Service issued a statement that it would divert funds from camping and other fees to “ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services.” Brengel says the agency is breaking the law by doing so, and its priority should be to either end the shutdown or cut off public access until it is over, and then restore order once staff can get back in.
Democracy Forward, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Washington, maintains the department is violating at least four separate provisions of federal law. The group’s press secretary Charisma Troiano lists the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, as well as the diversion of funds from entrance and parking fees.
A National Park Service spokesperson said the agency consulted with Interior’s Office of the Solicitor and determined that it could use funds from other fees.
The agency announced last week that it has resumed trash collection and sanitation services at select parks around the country.
Troiano and Brengel are urging Congress and the president to open the government to resume normal park operations.