Perhaps the most visible impact of the government shutdown has been in our national parks and recreation areas. With close to 80 percent of National Park Service staff furloughed, there simply aren’t enough remaining employees to conduct routine maintenance or ensure people know which areas to avoid because they’re dangerous or environmentally sensitive.
Volunteers, concessionaires and “Friends of groups” have stepped up at Yellowstone, Yosemite, and other sites managed by the Park Service to collect trash that’s been piling up and maintain bathrooms, but Joshua Tree National Park recently announced it would close at least for a couple days, while Muir Woods National Monument was shuttered as of Monday.
Other sites in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – Fort Funston, Ocean Beach, Lands End – have also remained open, but with no trash collection or bathroom maintenance.
At Fort Funston, the Park Service locked the gate that leads to the parking lot because of the lack of maintenance there due to the shutdown. That didn’t stop people from coming, however. Many visitors just parked on the narrow shoulder along Skyline Boulevard and walked into the recreation area. Indeed, on weekends over the holidays, parked cars stretched along the shoulder from the Funston entrance nearly as far as the eye could see.
Given that the speed limit on Skyline at Fort Funston is 55 miles per hour, this created a very unsafe situation. It’s only a matter of time before a dog or child darts into traffic after a door on the highway side of a car is opened.
The San Francisco Dog Owners Group ( full disclosure, I serve as Chair, a volunteer position) was so concerned about the potential for injury along Skyline, we offered to fund whatever level of maintenance the Park Service needed to reopen the parking lot.
Last weekend, a few hardy SFDOG volunteers, along with Bay Area members of Congress Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), braved howling winds and pouring rain to cleanup litter and empty trash cans at Lands End and Ocean Beach. On Tuesday, Speier and Huffman presented boxes of some of the trash they collected to the White House to protest the shutdown.
It’s no secret that SFDOG has had our difference with the Park Service over the years, especially when it comes to recreational access for people and their dogs. But that doesn’t matter here. We love our national recreation area and, as long as Park Service staff are prevented from doing their jobs by the shutdown, SFDOG and other volunteers will step up to help keep GGNRA sites clean and safe until staff can go back to work.
GGNRA leaders, who are themselves spending some time furloughed, have been appreciative of our offer to fund maintenance at Fort Funston. On Friday, the in-kind agreement between SFDOG and the Park Service went into effect, and the parking lot at Fort Funston reopened. We have given them a check for the first week’s maintenance, including trash collection and maintenance of the portable toilets, and will continue to give them weekly checks for at least a month or until the shutdown is over.
In the meantime, the San Francisco Department of Public Works has begun to collect trash at some GGNRA sites, including Lands End, Ocean Beach, and parts of Fort Funston. To be honest, we don’t really care who picks up the trash as long as it gets collected and the parking lot at Funston remains open.
In previous government shutdowns, for example, in 2013, the Park Service immediately closed its parks, monuments, and recreation areas to all visitors. Seeing aging World War II vets prevented from visiting the then-new memorial to that war galvanized opposition to the shutdown (which was over attempts by Republicans to defund Obamacare).
But this time, President Trump and outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made the calculated political decision to leave Park Service properties largely open, even if un- or understaffed. This was clearly intended to blunt the kind of criticism of the government shutdown that Congressional Republicans received in 2013.
It’s time to end the Trump shutdown and let government workers go back to work. Until then, SFDOG and other volunteers will do whatever we can to ensure the GGNRA remains open, clean, and safe.
Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area. She is a guest columnist.