Just days before Joshua Tree National Park had to close due to reported vandalism, maintenance, and sanitation problems, and in an effort to address the ever-growing need for maintenance and sanitation services such as trash removal, Deputy Director of National Park Service, P. Daniel Smith announced that the NPS is doing what they can to ensure the national parks are maintained and can still be accessed by visitors.
According to a press release Smith stated “The NPS currently has funds derived from entrance, camping, parking and other fees collected from park visitors that would typically be used for future projects at parks. 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.”
The Interior Department’s acting secretary, David Bernhardt, signed the revised contingency plan into action on Saturday, January 5. The plan allows park managers to use entrance fees to pay for staffing on expanded and urgent operations.
The decision to reallocate the funds is being criticized for its legality, claiming that the fees are to be spent only on development within each park and education projects. According to the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), reallocating entrance fees is taking away from maintenance that has been deferred and will cost an estimated $11.6 billion.
“National parks were expected to collect $310 million in fees in 2018. While this amount is less than 13% of the agency’s annual operating funds from Congress, the money goes a long way in many parks. Diverting this money will dig our parks into an even bigger financial hole. This will hurt rangers, parks, visitors and the tourism economy long after the shutdown is over.” Theresa Pierno, President and CEO for NPCA said.
According to Smith, more than $2 million in donations and in-kind services have been received from states, private companies, concessionaires, and nonprofit organizations in addition to volunteers that have donated their time and effort to aid in cleaning and stocking restrooms, and picking up and hauling trash.
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