Fridays are our day to highlight walks around America. Today it’s Florida’s turn. But, with the government shut down, national parks are in a bit of trouble. People have failed to bring trash and waste out with them. Because of this, parks are becoming overwhelmed with human refuse.
There have been calls to either reopen the parks completely, reinstating all employees, or close them completely for health and safety reasons. More than 83 percent of park employees have been furloughed meaning no guides, security or basic maintenance. The longer the shutdown continues, the more damage is happening to the parks. The damage is more far-reaching than you might first think. Roads and paths have become impassible with snow, downed trees and collapsed bridges — these problems happen every year but are now being left unfixed because of a lack of employees. Decades of work to ween bears off human food have gone down the drain. Animals are left vulnerable to poachers. Dogs are off leash. And people are stealing things from Civil War battlefields.
In some places, private citizens have been stepping up. When asked if people could help in the absence of employees, the National Park Conservation Agency said in a statement, “There are major safety hazards and liability issues with volunteering at parks where park staff aren’t present and safety measures aren’t being properly followed.”
But, Florida is going strong. A nonprofit organization is doing their level best to keep the state’s southern park clean and operational. Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park are officially closed but still accessible. The government says people may enter but at their own risk.
Fifty-nine employees of the nonprofit Florida National Parks Association are emptying trash cans, cleaning bathrooms and direction tourists to operational tours, not run by the government. After Hurricane Irma pounded the local industry in late 2017, many people couldn’t afford another financial hit.
Jim Sutton, executive director of the nonprofit Florida National Parks Association. “We’ll never be able to replace [the park rangers], but we try very hard to accommodate the visitors.” About their work to keep the parks open to allow visitors to enjoy themselves and local businesses to stay afloat, Sutton said, “You take two years with back-to-back hits and your most revenue-generating weeks are affected, it hurts.”
So, for now, if you want to go for a walk in Florida, go to one of those four parks. Otherwise, you might be better off just going for a walk around your block.