As the partial government shutdown enters into the new year, National Parks across the country have been accumulating human waste at an accelerating rate.
The national parks are not closed, but they are severely understaffed. With no one at the entrance booths, sites are basically free to visit. And with no one to clean, piles of trash and overflowing toilets have lead to public health concerns.
Amidst the news, dozens of volunteers across the country, who originally planned to hike, are taking it upon themselves to help clean and maintain the protected grounds.
One of those volunteers is Ken Yager, founder of a a cleanup nonprofit called Yosemite Facelift. The group usually arranges an end of the summer cleanup of Yosemite National Park in California, but after hearing the news, Yager and his team decided to start early, reported Inside Edition.
“There are a lot of us who were concerned about so many people in the park and the lack of park service infrastructure,” Yager told Inside Edition. “We’re just trying to maintain our beautiful parks until we get our beloved park services back.”
With bags of trash piling next to the overflowing trash cans, Yager explained that animals get into it due to leftover food, which then leads to that trash spreading across the woods. Due to bathrooms being locked, toilet paper has been left behind.
“It’s just slightly more offensive because it’s a clean natural park,” Yager said to Inside Edition. “It’s a beautiful time of year to visit the park now. Enjoy the park, but if you bring a bunch of stuff in there, bring it out. Help us out a little bit.”
Over in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Marc Newland and his daughter Erica have taken their father-daughter hiking trips to the next level. After hearing the news of the shutdown, Erica suggested to her father they should spend their time collecting some of the litter left behind in the park, reported CBS News.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Great Smoky Mountains Association ran out of emergency funds on New Year’s Day. Since then, the park has been working under the Department of Interior’s contingency plan for the National Parks Service.
“First, it was off to the Little River and Jake’s Creek trailheads where we were pleasantly surprised that there wasn’t much work for us. Next, we headed to the Laurel Falls trailhead and, as expected, we had plenty of work!” Newland said in the Facebook post. “We headed up the trail and before we knew it, our bags were full.”
Although not personally affected by the shutdown, Newland and his daughter still wanted to help out and inspire others to follow.
“I am not a government worker, just an avid hiker who lives just outside of our national park,” Newland told CBS News. “We have always made an effort to clean up litter when we hike but after explaining the shutdown to Erica (our 10-year-old), she was inspired to kick up our efforts and make a real difference.”
Newland ended his Facebook post with some food for thought. “These mountains give so much to so many people. Imagine if only a fraction of those people decided to give back to the mountains.”