Thursday, January 10, 2019

Always Leave It Better: Thoughts on National Parks during the Government Shutdown

Sputnik News photo
"When you leave your campsite, make sure it's always cleaner than when you came." That's what my dad always told me when I was growing up. It made sense then (although I probably didn't admit it), and it makes sense now. The world needs to be less polluted, not more, and everybody should help make that happen.

I've been thinking about what my dad said because there's been quite a bit of news about how the government shutdown has affected our national parks, which have furloughed employees due to lack of funds. I'm not going to add to the cacophony comments about the politics of the situation; rather, I'm going to focus on the topic of keeping camp clean.

The National Geographic Society says in an online article that the damage to national parks and monuments from this shutdown will take years to overcome, that it's not just about picking up the trash.
On Sunday, the Department of the Interior announced they would be dipping into funds collected from entrance fees to pay for trash clean up, restroom maintenance, and additional law enforcement. In a response to that announcement, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) cited fears that using entrance fees would divert badly needed funds from the park service’s massive $11 billion maintenance backlog.
Furloughing over 16,000 parks service employees and then diverting park collection fees to fund a minimal few employees may lessen some of the outrage of closing parks completely, but the true damage is low-level service now, falling even further behind in maintenance, and adverse effects on people and wildlife.

LA Times photo
The news is not all bad, though. Some individuals are volunteering to clean the parks. Most coverage is by local news, but Time magazine published an article about volunteers from various parks. Although admirable, timely, and necessary, the efforts of these fine individuals is superficial. Way to go, though. At least it's something. "Despite the shutdown most national parks grounds remain open. Visitors are entering without paying, and with no staff on hand, bathrooms are not being cleaned and trash cans are overflowing."

These efforts do not address pollution of water, animals becoming accustomed once again to consuming garbage, and the even greater deficiency of maintenance and rebuilding funds than prior to the shutdown. In another online Time article, John Garder, senior budget director of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association said, “We’re afraid that we’re going to start seeing significant damage to the natural resources in parks and potentially to historic and other cultural artifacts. We’re concerned there’ll be impacts to visitors’ safety.”

The previous two national government shutdowns were for three days and then less than one day. The current shutdown has lasted so far for over two weeks.

I thank all the volunteers who are helping keep our land as beautiful as possible. I intend to ask our government officials why our legislators can't manage to do the same. We need to take care of our messes, and so do the people we elect to office.

Personally, I am inspired to be more environmentally friendly when I camp. It's just a shame, though, that I am inspired by such a negative example. This blog is based on tiny trailer camping, and camping small is a beginning for camping more ecologically--choosing less impact on the environment, not more. Bicycle camping produces even less negative impact, but I find I can't do that all the time.

Let all tiny trailer campers, let all who seek a light footfall upon our lovely planet, let us all when we have the chance say a word that inspires and guides those who need it about protecting our planet more. After all, when we climb inside our tiny trailers, how well aware we are of the fragility of our environment. Just one or two thoughtless actions, and suddenly our little trailer resembles that junk closet at home where everything is shoved to get it out of sight. We certainly don't want that to happen to our beautiful parks, waterways, and monuments. That isn't what we want to see as we travel "that ribbon of highway."

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