Volunteers help keep Shenandoah Nat'l. Park clean during shutdown

Volunteers Travis Puglisi and Shawn Snyder load a trailer of trash in Joshua Tree National Park on Dec. 31

The Interior Department's acting secretary, David Bernhardt, has agreed to let park managers use entrance fees to keep facilities up and running.

After the Post obtained Bernhardt's memo, and NPS Deputy Director Daniel Smith confirmed it to the paper, saying: "As the lapse in appropriations continues, it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that can not be addressed exclusively through the generosity of our partners ..."

"Due to the unavailability of park staff to provide essential public services and ensure continued road safety for visitors, this closure to public vehicles is expected to continue until further notice", park officials said in a release.

The money will be used to bring in staff to maintain bathrooms, clean up trash and patrol the parks, all which have been concerns due to limited staffing because of the Trump administration's decision to keep national parks open during the partial government shutdown.

Freshman Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, sent a similar letter to Bernhardt that said he joined in asking for an alternative approach to keeping the parks open. The agency said previously that it would seek to keep parks "as accessible as possible" during the funding lapse. Heavy snow and the shutting of the park's restaurant, inn and other services led to the decision, park officials said. Some critics contend fees collected under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act are designated for visitor services and not for basic maintenance operations, according to The Post. Visitor fees were set aside before the shutdown for future park projects and paying off a deferred maintenance backlog.

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"The Department of Interior is very likely violating appropriations law, " said Representative Betty McCollum, Democrat of Minnesota and the new chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies.

The shutdown, which was the third of 2018, began at midnight on Saturday, December 22 over funding for President Donald Trump's border wall.

Although hikers and skiers are still allowed inside Mount Rainier National Park, officials reminded visitors there is no public parking outside the Nisqually entrance and cars parked on private property or blocking the gates will be towed. "For those national parks that don't collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors".

Meanwhile, hundreds of Muslim men volunteering with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association have been picking up trash in parks and public spaces across the nation - from the Everglades in Florida to the National Mall in Washington DC.

Overall, that's a miniscule fraction of the more than 330 million people who visited the 418 sites in the National Park System in 2017, according to National Park Service data.

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