After President Donald Trump agreed to temporarily reopen the government, the National Park Service on Friday announced that some parks that remained closed during the 35-day shutdown would once again open to welcome visitors.
The Associated Press reported that hundreds of parks will be “reopening on a rolling schedule,” with the National Park Service also noting not all will reopen right away. The Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Virgin Islands National Park were two parks that opened over the weekend, the Associated Press said, while Yellowstone National Park’s visitor centers were expected to reopen Sunday.
“We appreciate the support of state and local partners nationwide who stepped up to offer support to national parks,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a statement Friday. “We are grateful to have the dedicated men and women of the National Park Service back at work, serving the American people and welcoming visitors to their national parks.”
As many of the nation’s treasured sites resume operations, others are bracing to tackle the lasting effects of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. An estimated 16,000 National Park Service were furloughed, leaving many parks horribly understaffed and unable to manage visitors and campers.
Some parks left with mere skeleton crews were forced to deal with overflowing garbage and illegal behavior. Yosemite Valley resident Dakota Snider told the Associated Press earlier this month that conditions at Yosemite National Park were “heartbreaking,” adding that there was “more trash and human waste and disregard for the rules than I’ve seen in my four years living here.”
Another beloved national park, Joshua Tree, has become a symbol of the potential damage faced by sites that remain open and understaffed in the wake of a government shutdown. Park visitors strung the park’s namesake trees with Christmas lights and in some cases cut them down to make roads for out-of-bounds camping. As the Associated Press noted, many of these trees are “hundreds of years old.”
“Fully reopening the federal government will mean so much to so many,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a statement Friday. “Federal employees will finally get paid and be able to return to their jobs. For rangers and other park staff, it will mean returning to our national parks, assessing the terrible damage done to them while they were open with such limited staff, and once again welcoming visitors to the places they all love. Now is when the real work begins.”
Trump on Friday agreed to reopen the government for three weeks during negotiations, but said that if he’s unable to get approval for his border wall, “the government will either shut down again on February 15 or I will use the powers afforded to me under the law and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”
“We implore lawmakers to use this time to come to a long-term funding agreement and avoid another disaster like this,” Pierno said. “Federal employees, businesses, communities, and national parks deserve better.”