Some national parks are trying to stay open during the government shutdown, but human poop and overflowing trash cans are forcing the National Park Service to close down campgrounds and, in some cases, entire parks.
On Wednesday, the 12th day of the partial shutdown, officials announced Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks would be completely closed because of "health and safety concerns."
"Bathroom facilities in all locations are unsanitary and unhealthy, resulting in facility closures and human waste and toilet paper accumulation," Sintia Kawasaki-Yee, a spokesperson for the park, said in a statement.
The same day, Yosemite National Park announced it would limit access to some areas of the park "due to continuing issues with human waste and resource management."
The Department of Interior has instructed national parks to remain open and accessible to the public if possible during the shutdown. But worries about basic sanitation have forced park superintendents to close down large parts of the parks as the government shutdown closes in on two weeks, Emily Douce, spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the protection of the parks, told BuzzFeed News.
"As resources are being depleted, and sanitations are happening, things are being closed down," Douce said.
Lack of staffing to plow snowy roads or to keep watch over areas for safety is also forcing park officials to limit access to the public, or at least recommend potential visitors consider going somewhere else.
Arches National Park, for example, shut down because the park's inability to plow the roads after snowfall made conditions unsafe for visitors.
Yosemite officials asked visitors to go elsewhere for sledding or any kind of snow play. "There are currently no safe places for sledding or snow play in Yosemite," the park announced on Twitter.
Worries about overflowing toilets and trash bins have also prompted local volunteers to chip in, doing the work of National Park Service workers who have been furloughed since Dec. 22.
In Joshua Tree National Park, a group of about 30 to 50 volunteers have descended on campgrounds, cleaning public restrooms and emptying trash bins daily to try to keep the national park from deteriorating. Joshua Tree campgrounds were closed down Monday because toilets were reaching their capacity.
John Lauretig, executive director of Friends of Joshua Tree, called the volunteers "toilet paper angels."
"We go into the bathrooms and if they need to be swept out, they'll do that, and if the trash needs to be taken out, we'll do that," Lauretig told BuzzFeed News. "We wipe down and sanitize the toilets as best we could."
It's a tough job to take on, but one that locals and park regulars have been willing to do during most of the government shutdown. "Our national parks are special places," Lauretig said.
Holly Webb, whose husband is a national park ranger currently furloughed during the shutdown, has been driving into Yosemite Park to pick up trash left around trails, roads, and campgrounds.
Most of the park has been kept in good condition, Webb told BuzzFeed News, adding that she hasn't run into an overflowing trash can yet. She expected the number of visitors to go down after the holidays, but she is still concerned about the effect on the park during a government shutdown for which there is no end in sight.
"I really feel a high level of anxiety for how long the shutdown is going to go for," Webb said. "We need the park rangers to manage the parks. The longer it goes on the more unsure I am about the decision to stay open during the shutdown."
Most visitors seemed to have taken into account that there are no federal employees in the park, she said, taking out their trash and minding their impact on the park but, still, there are incidents that worry her.
There was evidence that someone drove their car into a meadow that was off limits, she said, and Tuesday night someone saw people lighting a campfire on the shoulder of the road.
She's cleaned up three dog poops, two diapers, and one pile of human feces that she found, inexplicably, just 100 feet from an open bathroom.
"It's really not that bad," she told BuzzFeed News. "I feel excited to help."
But there are other concerns about the impact on the parks due to the government shutdown, Lauretig said.
Many of the parks also have cultural and historic sites that require oversight and care, he pointed out. While most visitors will likely leave the sites intact, he said, it would only take one to damage, or steal from, these places.
There are no known instances of it happening yet, but he's worried the risk increases as the shutdown continues. "As dirty as bathrooms will get, we can always clean those," he said. "We can't replace artifacts that are stolen or that are damaged."