The ongoing federal government shutdown hurts the American people. The idea was ill conceived and, heading into the new year, the timing, probably, could not have been worse. With each passing day, consequences mount.
The National Park Service, already operating with insufficient funding, is one agency that lost its personnel with the shutdown. All over the country, national parks report piles of trash accumulating and atrocious conditions outside of restrooms. Videos show trash from vehicles strewn all along the roadways.
Who throws their trash out the window in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? No, really, who does that? When you drive up to the pristine mountains to escape the outside world, you’re going to throw your fast food cup out of your car window along Little River Road or on U.S. Highway 441 going up to Newfound Gap? Seriously?
When I was young, I thought nobody trashed the park. Then I learned it looked so clean because the Park Service workers kept it picked up. These past two or three weeks demonstrated what it would look like if it were not maintained. A surprising number of visitors don’t care about the environment, about other people or about where their tax dollars go as a result of their actions.
We haven’t come up with an incentive for those people to keep trash in their vehicle and dispose of it in a trash can when they stop or wait until they get home. In England, a new law fines people £150 for throwing trash out their car windows — more than if they were caught speeding.
An obvious solution when there is a government shutdown would be to close the affected parks to the public. If you know large numbers of people will visit and create problems and associated expenses, close the gates until park personnel are back on duty. Yes, depending on the duration of the shutdown, businesses depending on tourist dollars would be hurt. If you add the noise generated by those people to the ones denied entry to the parks, it seems it would create a bipartisan clamor to help break the shutdown.
Former National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis says that allowing visitors into national parks during a federal government shutdown is, “... a violation of the stewardship mandate, motivated only by politics.”
Guess whose idea it was to allow the national parks to keep their gates open to the public during this government shutdown? Yep, the same man who inexplicably ordered the shutdown. In 1998 and 2013, when the government shut down for extended periods, the national parks were closed to the public. This time, most certainly to avoid public outcry, the Trump administration thoughtlessly decided to keep the parks open.
Jarvis predicts “ugly consequences” as the shutdown continues and the parks are left open.
It’s not just a matter of an overabundance of trash and the appearance of human waste outside of restrooms that’s a current concern in the GSMNP. Safety and security are real threats.
The park covers 800 square miles or 520,000 acres. And 803 miles of maintained trails meander through the park. Know this: Now is not a good time to get injured of lost up there. For that matter, it’s probably risky currently to park your vehicle at any of the many out-of-the-way trailhead parking areas because two -egged snakes know the areas are not being patrolled.
One of three deaths in national parks since the government shut down happened on Porter Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area of the Smokies. Laila Jiwani, 46, of Plano, Texas, was killed Dec. 27 as she hiked with her husband and three sons. High winds caused a tree to fall toward the family and she lunged to protect her 6-year-old son, who sustained a broken leg and head injury. The mother reportedly died at the scene.