Joshua Tree National Park is one of the poster children for the devastation to the treasured sites during the government shutdown, which is now stretching beyond a month. Volunteers educating visitors and cleaning up trash bins and vault toilets have even been dubbed "toilet paper angels."
One of those angels is outdoor industry veteran Kenji Haroutunian, who has been involved with the nonprofit Friends of Joshua Tree since 1998. He said the organization is one of few with a memorandum of agreement with the National Park Service and works closely to help shape policy for climbing, search and rescue, and other user groups.
Tonight, Haroutunian is hitting send on a press release announcing that the group is providing small, zero-interest loans to furloughed Joshua Tree staff to help them bridge the ongoing gap in pay. While some maintenance workers are back, many other staff are still waiting to get back to work.
With the help of media and signs posted in the park, donations have helped Friends of Joshua Tree fill their pockets to expand their climber stewards program and other advocacy efforts. But Haroutunian said knowing people are on furlough, they wanted to spread the love to those who might be struggling to pay the bills.
"We're hoping that not only will it give some relief to these workers, but inspire other organizations who have funds to give too," Haroutunian said.
In the press release, the organization is asking that anybody with information about the "few bad actors" who have damaged the rare plants, Joshua Trees, and high-desert soils speak up.
Haroutunian, president of the group, wrote: "We owe thanks to our friends from Cliffhanger Guides, Nomad Ventures, Coyote Corner, and Joshua Tree Health Foods and many other individuals who anchored the volunteer corps. We also want to show material support for Park staff, who have suffered quietly as their unemployment situation stretches into a month or more of uncertainty."