NPS Approves 'Immediate Assistance' to Fund Park Cleanups During Shutdown

Mark Ralston  AFP  Getty Images

Mark Ralston AFP Getty Images

UNDATED- Nonprofits, businesses and state governments nationwide are putting up money and volunteer hours in a battle to keep national parks safe and clean for visitors as the partial US government shutdown lingers.

Since then, the state has spent $55,000 to help Zion, Bryce Canyon and Arches national parks open through the end of the year by paying for minimal staffing.

Under a memorandum signed Saturday by the Interior Department's acting secretary, David Bernhardt, and obtained by The Washington Post, park managers will be permitted to bring on additional staff to clean restrooms, haul trash, patrol the parks, and open areas that have been shut during the more than two-week budget impasse. But officials said the park should be ready to open once the shutdown is lifted. "At least 80 percent of the money stays in the park where it is collected, and the other 20 percent is used to benefit parks that do not collect fees".

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a New Mexico Democrat and new chairman of the House Resources Committee, was quoted in the Washington Post questioning the legality of using the maintenance funds for operations.

"I've been masquerading as a park service janitor for the last 16 days along with many, many other people", she said. "The president expects them to either pay more to keep the toilets clean out of their own pockets or pay millions of dollars for his ridiculous wall".

Democratic lawmakers denounced the unprecedented move by the administration and said it may not pass legal muster.

After consultation with the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, it has been determined that these funds can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to highly visited parks during the lapse in appropriations. "It is not acceptable to use FLREA funds to keep the parks open, and the Department of the Interior's actions likely violate appropriations law", McCollum, who will soon have oversight over the Interior Department's spending, said in a statement. Visitor fees were set aside before the shutdown for future park projects and paying off a deferred maintenance backlog.

During this influx of visitors, makeshift information centers run by volunteers and retired park service employees were set up at Coyote Corner, a local gift shop just outside the park, to help educate people on where to go and how to behave. "The longer we kick the can down the road, the more it will cost", Dabbs said. The plan said relevant parks would "utilize available retained recreation fees balances to provide basic visitor services", but it also said an area "must be closed" if visitor access became "a safety, health or resource protection issue". "Draining accounts dry is not the answer". Howenweep National Monument lists $255,000 in backlogged repairs, and Yucca House National Monument lists $125,000. "Many park facilities are 50 to 70 years old".

The park, from what I witnessed, looked incredibly well maintained - the trash cans were near empty and bathrooms stocked with toilet paper.

The Journal contributed to this article.

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