The steady stream of news and photos showing trash splayed across campgrounds, unsanitary restrooms, and bad behavior by visitors to national parks during the government shutdown is heartbreaking. On Sunday, the National Park Service announced that internal funds will be used to address sanitation issues and keep the parks open.

But even before this drastic measure to curb the growing crisis, local communities and volunteers have been stepping up to fill in for furloughed employees, showing their dedication to these public places.

The situation is still bad, especially at high-traffic national parks like Yosemite and Joshua Tree where the damage done by the influx of unsupervised visitors could take years to reverse. But it’s also reminding us how much these places are cherished—and it’s truly inspiring how some people are taking matters into their own hands.

So while the news surrounding the government shutdown is frustrating, we’d like to take a moment to focus on the silver lining.

The Government Shutdown Inspires Citizens to Step Up for Our National Parks and Volunteer

Responsible campers know to always “leave no trace.” But that practice has taken on new urgency in the wake of the current government shutdown. In response to the devastating damage, people who love national parks are volunteering and sharing ways that you can help, too.

That being said, it’s important to remember that camping is still not advisable in national parks. Even if you plan to help clean up, your presence can overwhelm limited park services. Before volunteering, contact local organizations to find out how you can be of service, without adding to the chaos. Or consider making a donation instead.

“The only time the park felt close to getting out-of-hand was during peak visitation over the holidays due to the sheer number of visitors, and fortunately, the amount of damage was minimal.” — John Lauretig

The Executive Director of Friends of Joshua Tree National Park made it clear, in an interview with Adventure Sports Network, that the situation at J-Tree isn’t nearly as horrific as reports might have you think—thanks to the dedicated efforts of the local community. Local groups and business are donating their time and money to keep things under control. But of course, those resources are limited.

“If the government shutdown continues, we’ll just make it a thing we do every week.” — Chuck Tanner

Local news outlet KTVQ in Billings reported that Montana residents are stepping up to keep Yellowstone clean and open for business. About 30 national park volunteers gathered in the snow and freezing temperatures, organized by local businessman Chuck Tanner, to fan out across the park, clean up restrooms, and collect trash.

“So many of you messaged me with questions on how to help.” — Beth Rodden

Professional climber Beth Roden has been volunteering at Yosemite National Park. She encourages those who want to help Yosemite donate to Ken Yager and the Yosemite Profesional Climbing Association.

“We’re just trying to maintain our beautiful parks until we get our beloved park services back.” — Ken Yager

Ken Yager, founder of the non-profit, Yosemite Facelift, organizes annual summer cleanups at Yosemite. But the government shutdown prompted Yager and his group to start early. They’ve been receiving donations and organizing garbage pick-up, keeping the park as clean as possible. He told Inside Edition: “It’s a beautiful time to visit the park right now.” But if you’re going to visit, you should help out with the efforts.

“It’s our duty to come in and serve — not as a show, but as an act of faith.” — Saud Iqbal

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that youth members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were picking up litter and emptying trash cans at the Washington Mall, where garbage is overflowing.

“People’s livelihoods depend on this — we’re all tied to the park.” — Kelly Kirk

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that volunteers gathered at Yosemite to clean restrooms. They also cleaned snow off signs, replaced garbage bags, and restocked toilet paper. Kirk told BDC that volunteers were happy to help, despite the unpleasant nature of some of the situations requiring cleanup.

“Start your new year by giving back to your public land a little—even if you’re not headed to a national park.” — Katie Boué


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The government is only “partially” shutdown, but its effects are deeply affecting places like public lands that rely on the people who care for and manage them. In Joshua Tree National Park, toilets and dumpsters were quickly overrun by visitors using facilities that need constant upkeep. Local advocates like @joshuatreefriends are taking on the maintenance themselves, hauling out piles of trash and restocking bathrooms with donated toilet paper. The National Park gates are open, but these parks are not ready for business as usual. Friends, if you’re headed to a park during this shutdown, please bring a trash bag and an extra roll of toilet paper. And tread extra lightly. Start your new year by giving back to your public land a little—even if you’re not headed to a national park. Wherever you go to get some fresh air this weekend—your mountain trails, backyards, local parks, favorite waterways—bring a bag and fill it up while you go. Even just grabbing one granola bar wrapper you encounter today. Take one small action. Yesterday, my dad and I paddled my favorite public mangrove tunnels and collected so. much. trash from the sea. And to be honest, it felt like we barely made a bent. But imagine if 35,000 people (that’s all of you) all just grabbed one bag or pocket’s worth of trash that’s polluting our public lands and environment. ________________________________________ Photo: by the magnificent @scott_kranz in Joshua Tree—native Serrano, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Mojave tribe land.

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Public lands activist Katie Boué reminds us all that even if we’re not visiting a national park, we can take the initiative to get outside and pick up some trash. And if you are going to a national park, it’s not just about “leave no trace,” right now. “Please bring a trash bag and an extra roll of toilet paper.”

“The national parks are a treasure. They’re something we all appreciate.” — Alleyn Harned

Harned organized a cleanup effort at Shenandoah National Park over the weekend. The group hiked around the park to pick up trash left by visitors. Harned told local news station WHSV, “This is a chance to show our appreciation to enjoy it and also contribute back to it in this time of serious challenge.”

“Volunteers Rule.” — Friends of Joshua Tree


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Joshua Tree National Park was forced to close for health and safety concerns after visitors left toilets and garbage overflowing. But national park volunteers are still working hard to clean up the damage.

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