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Joshua Tree National Park Is Closing After Visitors Damaged Trees During The Government Shutdown

Visitors have damaged some of the namesake trees in Southern California's beloved desert park, which already had overflowing trash cans and unusable restrooms, officials say.

Posted on January 8, 2019, at 5:30 p.m. ET

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Barricades block a closed campground at Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park is closing to the public starting Thursday because officials lack the resources to clean and protect the popular tourist destination as the partial government shutdown drags into its third week.

The result has taken its toll on the park, with habitat destruction and damage to the namesake Joshua trees, officials said, in addition to trash and unusable restrooms.

"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," National Park Service spokesperson George Land said in a statement.

As the fight over funding for President Trump's border wall continues, officials across the country have closed large swaths of national parks due to sanitation concerns and slim staffing.

Instead of completely closing like in past government shutdowns, under the Trump administration, the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and others have been forced to operate with a limited workforce or have been unable to pay their employees, leaving trash cans and toilets on federally managed lands unmaintained and acres of habitat unprotected.

In San Diego, the park service completely closed Cabrillo National Monument, known for its sea caves, “for the safety of visitors and park resources." Officials also closed Fort McHenry National Monument in Maryland and the Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia for similar reasons.

Known for its breathtakingly stark and craggy desert landscape, Joshua Tree spans more than 792,000 acres across Southern California near Palm Springs. The park had to partially close last month because it could not provide basic services.

On Wednesday, Joshua Tree officials said the park was totally closing to "allow park staff to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations."

Nonprofits and members of the public have been volunteering to help clean and care for Joshua Tree and other parks, unclogging toilets, picking up trash, and putting up signs reminding visitors that they are on their own, for now.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Park officials will spend the time planning and mapping out additional staff and resources needed to handle the "immediate maintenance and sanitation issues," pulling funds from park entrance fees, Land said.

The park will likely be reopened “in the coming days.”

Parks across the US are struggling with how to remain open and provide necessary services, forcing the National Park Service to dip into funds "that would typically be used for future projects," said NPS Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith.

“We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services," he said.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.