I visited three national park sites during the shutdown. In hindsight, I have mixed feelings — and here’s why

Anyone who follows me here knows I’m a huge national parks fan. I’ve been to countless parks and natural areas all over the U.S. and Canada, planning vacations around them in our family motor home every summer, camping in BLM lands across the street, staying with family/friends a few hours away to visit a park for the day, flying camping gear across the country to camp in a park, or driving hours and hours round trip from my apartment when I lived in the West.

In December, I took a trip to Southern California, so of course Joshua Tree was on my list, again. I was then planning on driving to the Grand Canyon on the next part of the trip. But while I was on vacation, the government shutdown. My first thought? Anger.

I was extremely angry that I planned a vacation around the parks and there was the potential of the parks being shut down, all because of funding for something I’m not going to mention, but you can read about here.

But thankfully, they remained open, and we headed into Joshua Tree National Park on December 23, 2018, the second day of the shutdown. We were warned that the visitor center would be closed, toilet paper might not be stocked, and there would be no rangers — but the gates would be open.

joshuatree1
Entrance gate at Joshua Tree — just drive right in!

Driving in, no one was there to take our money, and we drove right in, along with the hundreds of other cars of tourists visiting Joshua Tree that day. We found toilet paper in the open bathrooms, and the trails, campgrounds, and parking lots were open. Since it was the first day, people weren’t being that stupid — yet.

We did see some people walking off-trail (which is a usual occurrence in Joshua Tree, as it is just a desert and people can pretty much walk anywhere if not policed) and saw one person flying a drone, but for the most part, the trash cans weren’t overflowing and the toilets were clean.

joshuatree3

Two long weeks later, whether people are taking advantage of “free” national parks are not, this is not the case. Joshua Tree has closed campgrounds because “pit toilets have reached capacity” (um, gross), and people are performing other hazardous acts in the park — like driving off-road, wandering into the wilderness alone, and literally STEALING JOSHUA TREES, which are extremely fragile and are under threat from climate change (and their habitat could disappear in the park altogether by 2100).

Volunteers in the area, dubbed “toilet paper angels,” are going into the park every day and emptying trash cans, restocking bathrooms, and picking up human waste on park grounds.

Because of all this destruction, and despite these volunteer efforts, the National Parks Service has now had to dip into entrance fee funds (an unprecedented and perhaps illegal move, which will take money away from the parks) to start cleaning up the parks themselves.

joshuatree2

I also went to the Grand Canyon a few days later, but because of a contingency plan put out by Arizona’s governor, Arizona always plans to have the Grand Canyon open (except entrance fees and the visitor center, of course), even during a shutdown — the shuttle buses were even running! You can see his contingency plan here.

Yesterday, I visited Gateway National Recreation Area in New Jersey to do a beach cleanup and saw much of the same — no access bathrooms, and people walking wherever they pleased.

As a “parks” person, I have mixed feelings about visiting these majestic, amazing places in the national parks system. A good chunk of my vacation was planned around taking my girlfriend to see Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon — two iconic parks that I would have obviously paid to go see, shutdown or no shutdown. Being a wild keeper and steward of the Earth, I would have picked up trash if I saw any (we didn’t contribute to any trash in either park), but for people to use and abuse “our” natural places like this really upsets me.

But should I have even visited in the first place and contributed to the masses of people coming in and out of the park, even if I left no trace? Should the parks even be open in the first place to prevent this kind of destruction? Would this lead to people illegally entering the parks anyway?

And on the entrance fees… it really bothers me that we’re missing out on so much money for the parks just because of a shutdown. Everyone visiting the parks during this time should be donating their entrance fees to the National Park Conservation Association or the conservation association affiliated with the park you’re visiting — like Joshua Tree National Park Association or the Grand Canyon Conservancy. This way, you can be sure your money is going back to preserving the park for future generations.

And if you’re close to a park, join a cleanup effort! I headed out to the closest NPS site I could find and picked up 23.5 pounds of trash on the beach in just 30 minutes.

View this post on Instagram

Congratulations, Sandy Hook! 🎉 You’re the dirtiest beach I’ve ever visited 😥 I was inspired by everyone cleaning up the parks, so @rebecca_roselli and I headed out to @gatewaynps to do a beach cleanup — and we found the Great Sandy Hook Garbage Patch. We cleaned up for half an hour, filling one black garbage bag with 23.5 pounds of trash, and didn’t even make a dent. Even though we didn’t find overflowing toilets or trash cans here, all of our parks in the @nationalparkservice system need cleaning. So get out there and pick up a few bottle caps! Every few pieces makes a difference 🌿 #cleanuptheworld #wildkeepers #keepnaturewild #2minutebeachclean #beachcleanup #leaveitbetter #standforwhatwestandon #cleanupcrew #2minutelitterpick #cleanyobeach #knwpickupparty

A post shared by @ abbeydufoe on

The shutdown isn’t going to end any time soon, so if you’re heading to a park, please be mindful of yourself and your waste. Whatever you pack in, please pack out (and pack out MORE if you happen to see SAFE trash on your way back). We only get one Earth, and one national park system, so let’s keep it clean.

*editor’s note: An earlier version of this post said there was no one at Gateway Recreation area to collect fees, but fees aren’t collected between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

 

 

Three Ways Climate Change Impacts New Jersey

As a volunteer at Reeves-Reed Arboretum this fall (my local Arboretum, of which I’m also a member!), I was asked to write a blog post about how climate change impacts the great Garden State. Read below!


Climate change, the rise of global temperatures on Earth, can be attributed to the increase of humans using fossil fuels. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can rise from many sources, including pollution from coal plants for electricity generation and the transportation industry in the form of car exhaust. And as the world warms from these emissions, we can see impacts all around us.

Climate change, the rise of global temperatures on Earth, can be attributed to the increase of humans using fossil fuels. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can rise from many sources, including pollution from coal plants for electricity generation and the transportation industry in the form of car exhaust. And as the world warms from these emissions, we can see impacts all around us

Here are the top three ways climate change impacts us here in New Jersey.

More Extreme Weather and Heavy Downpours

downpours_US

An increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere means more available water, which means an increase in heavy precipitation events — or heavy downpours. We can see this trend prominently in the Northeast, including in New Jersey, which you may have noticed this spring and summer. With heavy rain comes flash floods, which can lead to property damage, which you may have even seen at your own home.

Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, are increasing, too. Four out of 11 billion-dollar disasters so far this year were in the Northeast — the Northeast winter storms of January and March and the severe weather we experienced from May 1-5 and 13-15 made the list of some of the the costliest disasters in the whole country this year so far.

2018BillionDollarDisasters_Count_en_title_lg.jpg

Sea Level Rise

Climate change is also increasing the frequency of coastal flooding and storm surge at properties down the shore. From Climate Central: “The combination of water expansion as the ocean has warmed and the melting of land ice into the oceans has driven sea level up about seven inches since 1900, and the rise is accelerating.”

The amount of sea level rise in the future depends on our emissions, but coastal flooding is already affecting coastal communities in New Jersey, and property values are already being affected.

Shifting Seasons

You may have noticed the weather this year changed the timing of our fall foliage here in New Jersey — even here at the Arboretum! The timing of fall foliage is impacted by temperature, sunlight, and rainfall, so you can blame this year’s delay on climate change. Falls have been warming since the 1970’s, which can delay the peak fall foliage we come to know and love in the Garden State!  

fall_at_reeves_reed

Summer is also lasting longer, which can “take a toll on health and air quality,” according to Climate Central. Longer summers can lead to shorter winters, which means pests like ticks and mosquitoes stick along longer, too. Yikes!

A Non-Scientist’s #SparkofScience

This was originally written in in 2016 for Nautilus Magazine’s Spark of Science Issue. It has been updated for 2018.

I am not a scientist, but I am a science communicator.

As a web and social media producer for Climate Central, I’m surrounded in science daily. I tweet about rising CO2 levels. I write stories about the issues our country faces in a world with climate change. I create interactives showing what sea level rise projections could do to major cities around the world. I write social media video scripts about declining Arctic sea ice.

I always thought my spark of science came through my Earth 100 class at Penn State with Dr. Laura Guertin, a kick-ass marine geologist and professor who introduced me to the connection between educational technology and Earth science. Who better to teach me about our changing planet than an American Geophysical Union blogger AND #SparkofScience blogger?

_DSC0235_edited

But after a bit of introspective thought, I found that Dr. G’s class was just a continuation of my love for the Earth.

When I was 3, I channelled Julia Butterfly Hill and hung out in a Redwood tree. My elementary, middle and high school years were spent RVing to federal lands all across the U.S. and Canada. I have spent countless hours hiking through our National Forests, and many more driving to National Parks. Grad school in Montana brought me to the dwindling glaciers of Glacier National Park , and curiosity has taken me from the White Rim Trail in Utah to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. I’ve blogged about my dedication of wilderness protection for the Wilderness Society, and been featured on National Parks Traveler.

My intrigue with wild places hasn’t peaked yet, but has turned into a fierce dedication to educating the public on what climate change will do to the natural world. And even though I’m not a scientist, I’m using my spark of science to tell everyone about it.

Here’s What You Should Do for the Planet This #EarthDay

Listen, change ain’t easy. I know that. But if it’s for the planet, you should be all in. So here’s what I’m doing this Earth Day, and you should join me.

1. Litter less, and work more on #2minutelitterpick. I’ve been picking up beach litter long before the #2minutebeachclean came around, but now it’s gaining some momentum as a Twitter hashtag (what isn’t these days?). It’s so easy to pick up some trash for two minutes on your way off the beach, down the street, and as you’re heading down the trail (just shove it in your backpack!). But it takes more than that — stop it at the source. Start committing to buying things with less packaging, and if you have to use plastic, PLEASE recycle it. A little goes a long way, and reduce, reuse, recycle still fits in the motto of Earth Day.

2. Give up straws. I have to admit — I’ve been trying this one, and it is HARD, especially when you’re out at restaurants and they just throw straws at you — literally. But just ask for no straw. Straws (and other plastics) are making their way into our waterways, choking up our oceans and literally choking our wildlife. Plastic is making its way into our food, too. #BanTheStraw is just the latest in the plastic-free movement (even McDonalds is doing it!,), behind the #BanTheBag movement, starring my favorite, the plastic bag. And it’s making waves — in July, Seattle will ban plastic straws and plastic utensils, and Scotland plans to ban plastic straws by 2019.

3. Plant a tree. Ok, people have been saying this for decades, and there’s a reason! Planting trees is one of the best things you can do for climate change, and trees are also just the best in general (I can’t source that information, because it’s just known to be true). If you can’t literally plant a tree because you don’t have the means, have someone else contribute for you! Companies like Tentree plant ten trees (you guessed it!) for every item you buy.

There are also many organizations you can donate to that will plant trees in regions that need it most. To start with a donation — Plant a billion from the Nature Conservancy, One Tree Planted, American Forests, and the National Forest Foundation.

If you need more suggestions, check out more campaigns on Earth Day Network.