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Joshua Tree National Park averts shutdown, to remain open

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Joshua Tree National Park closes campgrounds due to shutdown
Palm Springs Desert Sun

The National Park Service said on Wednesday it will keep California’s Joshua Tree National Park open by dipping into revenue generated by fees, averting a temporary closure planned for Thursday morning.

“In addition, recently closed areas of the park will once again be accessible to visitors starting January 10. Some visitor services, including campgrounds and entrance stations, will reopen utilizing recreation fee revenue,” the park service said in a news release.

It said that areas recently closed due to staffing and maintenance issues will reopen on Thursday as well. These include all campgrounds; Stirrup Tank Road; Lost Horse Mine Road and Trail; Key’s View Road; and the Rattlesnake Canyon Picnic Area and Road.

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Park service officials said in the news release that by using Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to restart park maintenance and address sanitation issues, “the park will be able to maintain some visitor services, including reopening the campgrounds.”

In addition, staff will be brought in to ensure “protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred” during the partial federal government shutdown.

A funding crisis caused by a dispute between congressional leaders and the White House forced nearly a third of federal government workers to be furloughed, including most of the Interior Department, which manages the National Park Service. Parks had been allowed to remain open with skeleton crews, but some had to close over health and safety issues.

More: NPS plans to use entrance fees to keep major parks open during shutdown

On Sunday, David Bernhardt, acting secretary of the Interior Department, announced that national parks would make use of entrance, camping, parking, and other fees to pay for park maintenance and sanitation. Parks were supposed to close during the work.

The partial federal shutdown came at a time when the park, located in southeastern California, was reporting a surge in popularity. Before the partial shutdown, officials announced the park hosted 2.8 million visitors in 2017. And during this past Thanksgiving weekend the park had more than 22,000 visitors.

This surge in popularity has provided positive economic growth for the small towns that line the park’s northern and western boundaries. A report by the National Park Service in 2017 found that the park’s 2.5 million visitors in 2016 spent more than $123 million in the communities near the park, spending that created more than 1,700 jobs in the region.

Outdoor areas of Joshua Tree National Park will remain accessible. Most facilities will remain closed. The four National Park Service visitor centers will remain closed. Entrance stations will be open to provide safety and resource protection messages to arriving visitors, but entrance fees and camping fees will not be collected.

The Joshua Tree Visitor Center, which is owned and operated by the Joshua Tree National Park Association, will be open.

Officials said they were grateful to volunteers who provided basic sanitation services at campgrounds and other closed areas during the partial federal government shutdown. “Their efforts have contributed significantly to the reopening of campgrounds and restoring access to other closed areas of Joshua Tree National Park,” the news release said.

Prior reporting by Christopher Damien was used in this article.

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