Slogging into the third week of the government shutdown, the National Park Service (NPS) has decided to use funds from entrance, camping, and parking fees to keep mayhem at bay inside the parks.
In a statement issued Sunday, NPS Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith announced that the agency will use the internal funds to address sanitation and maintenance issues. That includes cleaning up trash, cleaning and maintaining restrooms, bringing in additional rangers, and restoring accessibility to some areas.
"As the lapse in appropriations continues, it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners," Smith wrote in a statement.
He also said, “We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services."
However, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) says that tapping into visitor fees robs the parks of key dollars needed for projects and to fill the massive $11.6 million maintenance backlog.
"National parks were already struggling before this government shutdown, operating with fewer staff and smaller budgets to sustain our parks," NPCA President and CEO Theresa Pierno said. "Rather than giving parks the funding they need, the president proposed slashing the parks’ budget, which would have cut thousands of ranger positions. Now he wants to pilfer from entrance fees, depleting these badly needed resources to the point of wiping them out entirely."
More than $2 million in donations and in-kind services have come from states, private concession companies, and park nonprofit groups, according to Smith. Volunteers have pitched in to pick up trash and clean restrooms. And sixth-grader Robbie Bond is at it again, helping pick up garbage and speaking up for the parks.
But Bond, and many others, have questioned why the parks are open at all in absence of so many crucial workers.