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by | Jan 8, 2019 | Breaking News, Current Events, Environment, Government, News, Politics | 0 comments

Joshua Tree National Park will close to all visitors Thursday because of damage to the park during the partial government shutdown, now in its third week. Without rangers on hand, visitors created new roads by driving off pavement and defaced the park’s namesake Joshua trees, a park spokesman said Tuesday.

“The way it looks right now because of resources or lack thereof, we have about eight rangers that oversee a large park, we will remain closed until appropriations are put into place to reopen,” spokesman George Land said Tuesday.

The 790,636-acre park near Twentynine Palms, Calif., will close at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol the park and enforce the closure until park staff completes the necessary cleanup and park protection measures,” according to a park statement issued Tuesday.

Anyone with camping reservations with will receive a refund.

Land said the decision to close the park was made at the national level. Earlier during the shutdown, the park’s toilets and trash barrels overflowed, prompting many volunteers to step up and try to help clean the park.

The move comes 17 days after the shutdown sent all but a fraction of Joshua Tree National Park’s staff home and left the immensely popular park open with only a small group of rangers to keep order.

The National Park Service said Tuesday that all visitors will have to leave the park by 8 a.m. on Thursday, so that park staff can address the ongoing maintenance issues. Park fees identified in a recently updated National Park Service contingency plan will be used to fund the improvements in the absence of usual appropriations.

In a news release, park officials said “while the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure.”

Over the past few weeks, volunteers from the area and a skeleton crew of staff from the park have been working to maintain facilities for visitors over the extended holiday period. The park is a major economic driver in the high desert, and local businesses widely reported brisk business.

Park officials acknowledged this effort in the release, and said they hope to restore visitor access to the park as quickly as possible “to mitigate any negative impact to the local economy.”

Breanne Dusastre, director of marketing and tourism development for Visit 29! Tourism Group, coordinated a group of volunteers to stock and clean bathrooms throughout the park on New Year’s Day. Dusastre said that keeping the parks clean and open is good is critical for the local economy, but secondary to the long-term health of the park’s natural resources.

“The closure is going to make things really difficult for our small businesses,” Dusastre said. “But this is the best decision for the park. National parks are national treasures and we need to make sure we protect these resources for visitors in five years and 50 years to come out and enjoy them.”

Dusastre said that even with the park’s temporary closure, there are plenty of other places to visit in the area. Today, she is leading a group of eight Marines to clean up nearby Mojave Trails National Monument.

John Lauretig, executive director of Friends of Joshua Tree, was among the leaders who coordinated meetings of volunteers to clean and maintain the park everyday since the shutdown started. Lauretig is also concerned about the impact that the park’s closure is going to have on the local economy and wonders if the damage to the park has been sensationalized.

“I think, in part, the closure is a cover your ass move,” Lauretig said. “If major damage occurs, the park officials don’t want to be responsible.”

Lauretig has been in the park just about every day since the closure and said damage to the park has been sensationalized.

“I have not personally seen the damage that I hear rumors of,” Lauretig said. “I’ve seen out-of-bounds camping, people camping where they are not supposed to. But I haven’t seen rampant off-roading or people cutting down trees, that isn’t happening.”

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