Park officials early Tuesday said Joshua Tree National Park would close to visitors for the duration of the shutdown, but walked that back later in the day to say the park would reopen by week’s end.
“The park has staff coming in Wednesday to start cleanup,” National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said Tuesday afternoon. “This is their top priority to get restrooms cleaned and trash picked up. We will have everything finished and access restored to the park ... by the end of the week.”
Previously the park planned to temporarily close 8 a.m. Thursday. If cleanup is complete by then, there will be no closure, Litterst said.
The plan is to restore access to closed areas and open campgrounds for overnight stays, he said. However, visitor centers will remain closed and entrance fees will not be collected.
Campgrounds closed to overnight visitors Jan. 2 because of health and safety concerns over the park’s vault toilets, which were almost at capacity.
More problems emerged as visitors entered unchecked. Without rangers on hand, visitors created new roads by driving off pavement and defaced the park’s namesake Joshua trees, park spokesman George Land said earlier Tuesday.
“Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol the park and enforce the closure until park staff completes the necessary cleanup and park protection measures,” a park statement said Tuesday.
Anyone with camping reservations with Recreation.gov will receive a refund.
Land said the decision to close the park was made at the national level. Earlier during the shutdown, the park’s toilets and trash barrels overflowed, prompting many volunteers to step up and try to help clean the park.
Other parks have felt the strain of visitors pouring into their unstaffed facilities without paying entrance fees. Yosemite National Park shut the popular Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and two campgrounds because of human waste and trash on roadsides that pose a public health hazard.
In Death Valley, the Furnace Creek and Texas Springs campgrounds closed last week, along with access roads to Natural Bridge, Dante’s View and Keane Wonder Mine. The road to Salt Creek is also closed. Much of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are closed too.