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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

The March for Science (and Climate)

2017 marks the first year I marched — starting with the Science March in D.C. on Earth Day and continuing on with the People’s Climate March in New York City a week later.

I’m not the marching type, but all bets are off with our current administration threatening to take away national monuments, removing climate information from various government websites, considering exiting the Paris Agreement…. and the list goes on.

Being a part of the March for Science was surreal. Despite the rain, the streets surrounding the National Mall were flooded with scientists protesting the administration’s threat to science and science funding. And it wasn’t just regular people (like me). Climate Central’s chief scientist, Heidi Cullen, spoke to a soggy crowd about the value of extreme weather reporting and attribution science. Jason Box, climate researcher (and an important part of my favorite climate film), spoke to the importance of melting Greenland on the world’s coastlines (in case you didn’t know, sea level rise is coming for us all, and estimates keep getting more extreme), while Bill Nye stressed to lawmakers that “science is for all.”

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Signs at the March for Science in D.C. on Earth Day, 2017.

The People’s Climate March hoped to continue the momentum of the importance of science, so all over the U.S. (and the world), thousands marched in the People’s Climate March. In Staten Island, a sister march walked along the coast where Superstorm Sandy devastated homes and buildings along the shore.

Signs here overwhelmingly pointed to renewables, rising seas, and the importance of protecting the Earth.

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Activists march on Staten Island

I marched for science and a clean planet, and for everyone in my life who is dedicated to science (including us science communicators!). The March for Science organizers are aiming to make this a movement, and I’ll be there every step of the way.

The Great Outdoors: My Nautilus #SparkofScience

It should be no surprise to anyone that my spark of science, a term coined by Nautilus Magazine, came from the great outdoors.

Nautilus was kind enough to accept my submission, wherein I talked about how my love for science, even though I’m not a scientist, came from spending time in wild places with my family.

I always thought my spark of science came from 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)?

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

Read the whole post here. Thanks, Nautilus!

Outdoor Exploration: Southern Arizona

What’s better than a January vacation to Arizona? Basically nothing.

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Sitting on the edge of Arizona (or, more specifically, the Wind Cave trail outside of Phoenix)

Despite Arizona’s record warmth, the week I chose to go was quite cool and damp due to El Niño’s impacts of increased precipitation and cool air in the Southwest. There was even snow at the Grand Canyon!

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I spent part of my trip in Southern Arizona outside of Phoenix, and OH MAN. THE CACTI.

We spent one day in the Desert Botanical Garden, which is home to hundreds of species of cacti, desert plants and wildflowers, as well as roadrunners! The garden also focuses on conservation genetics of rare desert plants, all showcased throughout the gardens.

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Next up — snowy Sedona! Stunning red rocks surround the valley.

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Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.

After visiting the Grand Canyon, we headed back down to the Phoenix area — and back to the saguaros.

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We also visited the Biosphere 2 in Tucson, and ended my trip with a hike! Until next time, desert Southwest!

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