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Joshua Tree National Park Will Close After Visitor Damage During Government Shutdown

Volunteer Alexandra Degen cleans a restroom during the government shutdown at Joshua Tree National Park in California.

Joshua Tree National Park will be temporarily closed as of Thursday morning because of damage caused by visitors during the partial government shutdown. Park officials said few rangers are on hand to prevent off-road driving, which causes destruction of the park's namesake trees.

"While the vast majority of those who visit Joshua Tree National Park do so in a responsible manner, there have been incidents of new roads being created by motorists and the destruction of Joshua trees in recent days that have precipitated the closure," the park said in a statement.

"Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol the park and enforce the closure until park staff complete the necessary cleanup and park protection measures."

In a tweet, park officials said the closure will "allow staff to address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations."

For the past several days, volunteers have stepped forward to help clean the park, which covers nearly 800,000 acres in the Mohave and Colorado deserts east of Los Angeles and draws 4 million visitors annually.

The announcement is only the latest park closure prompted by the government shutdown, which has resulted in overflowing toilets and trash bins.

Parts of Yosemite National Park are closed, as well as much of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

On Sunday, park officials said they will be using entrance fees to pay for operations and basic maintenance.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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