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Joshua Tree National Park Will Stay Open After All As Officials Cope With Habitat Damage

The National Park Service has been forced to operate with a limited workforce during the shutdown, leaving trash cans and toilets on federally managed lands unmaintained and large swaths of habitat unprotected.

Last updated on January 10, 2019, at 3:37 p.m. ET

Posted on January 10, 2019, at 12:49 p.m. ET

@everymanoverland / Adam Holloway via Reuters

California's Joshua Tree National Park will avoid a temporary closure after officials said they have found other funds to cover the costs of cleaning clogged restrooms and better protecting habitat, some of which was damaged during the partial government shutdown.

Officials had planned to close the park completely Thursday, citing the inability to manage the waste left behind by visitors and habitat destruction by off-roaders. Some of the park's namesake trees were also damaged, including one that was cut down to clear a new path, officials said.

"There are about a dozen instances of extensive vehicle traffic off roads and in some cases into wilderness," Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith told reporters on a call earlier this week, according to National Parks Traveler. "We have two new roads that were created inside the park. We had destruction of government property with the cutting of chains and locks for people to access campgrounds. We’ve never seen this level of out-of-bounds camping."

During the shutdown, with Joshua Tree National Park open but no staff on duty, visitors cut down Joshua trees so they could drive into sensitive areas where vehicles are banned. "We had some pretty extensive four-wheel driving."

The National Park Service, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, said in a statement that officials are now tapping funds generated by recreation fees to pay for cleanup efforts and reopen campgrounds for overnight stays. The park will also bring on additional staff to protect park resources as the shutdown drags into a third week.

Instead of completely closing like in past government shutdowns, under the Trump administration, the National Park Service has been forced to operate with a limited workforce, leaving trash cans and toilets on federally managed lands unmaintained and large swaths of habitat unprotected.

@lost.sasquatch REUTERS

Trash is loaded onto a truck near Joshua Tree National Park on Jan. 6, 2019, in this picture obtained from social media.

Volunteers have been stepping in to try to fill the maintenance gap; at some parks, the volume of waste proved to be overwhelming.

In a statement, the park service cited its efforts at Joshua Tree for having "contributed significantly" to the reopening of campgrounds and restoring access to other closed areas.

Despite the reopening, campgrounds and other areas like Lost Horse Mine Road and Trail, as well as the park's four visitor centers, will remain closed.

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.