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10 January 2019, 02:16 | Darnell Patrick
The National Parks Services Makes 'Extraordinary' Move to Keep Parks Open Amid Government Shutdown
UNDATED- Nonprofits, businesses and state governments nationwide are putting up money and volunteer hours in a battle to keep national parks safe and clean for visitors as the partial USA government shutdown lingers.
This "extraordinary step" could be a violation of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, the Post noted, because that law limits the use of entrance fees for "repair, maintenance, and facility enhancement related directly to visitor enjoyment, visitor access, and health and safety", visitor information and habitat restoration, among other things.
Visitors are no longer allowed to enter Mount Rainier National Park through the main entrance until the government shutdown ends.
The Montana Republican had written to Bernhardt the previous day seeking an adjustment to the Interior Department's implementation of the shutdown at National Park Services sites.
"The Department of Interior is very likely violating appropriations law", Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who is incoming head of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing Interior, told the newspaper.
"The NPS now has funds derived from entrance, camping, parking and other fees collected from park visitors that would typically be used for future projects at parks".
Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva, the new chairman of House Natural Resources Committee, said his committee will probe whether the administration's action is "legally justified".
Dozens of volunteers from a Muslim youth group dedicated the past weekend to cleaning up national parks across the country, picking up the slack caused by the government shutdown.
If Shenandoah National Park takes part in the plan, the trust says it will still cover the cleaning cost of port-a-potties.
After consultation with the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, it has been determined that these funds can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to highly visited parks during the lapse in appropriations.
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"The burdens being born by local communities should be addressed by park service personnel within days", Bernhardt said in a memo, "particularly at the bigger parks such as Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks".
"We aren't releasing more detail because the incident remains under investigation, which is taking longer than usual because of the shutdown", Munoz said.
Jeremy Barnum, a spokesperson with the National Parks Service told the Washington Post that a total of seven people have died since the shutdown, and officials believe four of them were suicides.
Stewart said Sunday that he was happy Interior would keep the parks running.
She said it was especially concerning given the fact that many of these parks have already lost a significant amount of park fee money - sometimes in the millions of dollars - by not collecting fees over the holiday season, when many of them have increased visitors. "Draining accounts dry is not the answer".
The Washington Post reported Sunday that by seeking to keep parks open through the shutdown, the Trump administration had broken with the Clinton and Obama administrations, which cut off access to parks when funding elapsed.
Sunday's announcement was met with criticism from some corners.
With no one to clean, empty and maintain the trashcans and bathrooms, Zaharias anxious that trash - and human feces - would pile up and conditions would worsen to the point of shuttering the park.
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