Volunteers, families, ordinary citizens help maintain national parks

National parks aren’t just forests filled with scenic trails. They are national treasures that hold years of history and monuments that represent our nation’s heritage. That’s why these citizens feel the need to keep them clean as the partial government shutdown in the United States continues.

There are more than 50 US national parks, and in an unprecedented move, the Trump administration decided to keep the gates to some of these parks open during the shutdown.

On Sunday, the National Park Service said it would use reserved money from visitors fees to keep up with operations at parks around the country. However, most parks are operating with very little to no staff.

“We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services,” read a statement from the agency’s deputy director, P. Daniel Smith.

But with a quarter of the federal government workforce off the job or working without a paycheck, agencies like the National Park Service are struggling to keep the vast acreage clean.

The overflowing trash cans, near-capacity pit toilets and litter in the parks have prompted communities to organize cleanup crews. Here are some of the folks who are trying to keep the national parks beautiful:

‘The Government Shutdown Litter Patrol’

Marc Newland and his family have been organizing cleanup crews for more than 15 years as a way to give back to their community. After hearing about the government shutdown and how it would affect the Great Smoky Mountains, a place the family visits often, Newland’s 10-year-old daughter, Erica, knew she wanted to keep it clean.

“We were supposed to go hiking, but she decided that it was better for us to pick up the litter accumulated in the trailheads,” Newland said. “After all, the busiest visitor week of the year had just ended,” referring to the holiday season, when many travel to experience the magic of the Smokies.

On January 3, the dad-daughter duo grabbed some plastic bags and called themselves the “Government Shutdown Litter Patrol.”

Newland shared the cleaning outing on Facebook, and it quickly made headlines, prompting others to help clean up.

“It was a fun and very rewarding day for both of us and Erica says that she would like to challenge other hikers to take one day off from getting in miles and impressive vista pics and instead, give back by grabbing a trash bag, heading to the park and collecting some litter!!”