Joshua Tree National Park to Close After Visitors Damage Signature Trees During Government Shutdown

Joshua Tree National Park has been forced to close after visitors damaged its namesake trees during the partial government shutdown, park authorities announced Tuesday.

The closure came as a result of the three-week shutdown, which has caused temporary staff shortages and minimal ranger supervision at national parks across the country.

Some visitors to Joshua Tree have taken advantage of the situation to drive off-road, causing damage to some of the park's unique desert trees, according to park officials.

"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 National Park Service said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. "Law enforcement rangers will continue to patrol the park and enforce the closure until park staff complete the necessary cleanup and park protection measures."

Along with other national parks, Joshua Tree had stayed open during the shutdown with minimal staff. But as the park reduced staffing and closed visitor centers, trash and human waste began to accumulate, along with damage to the landscape.

Area residents and national park supporters volunteered to help clean the park, assistance that Joshua Tree officials said was crucial to keeping the park open. In a tweet Tuesday, however, the National Park Service said Joshua Tree had to close so officials could "address sanitation, safety, and resource protection issues in the park that have arisen during the lapse in appropriations."

Known for its otherworldly desertscape and extreme temperatures, Joshua Tree, about 140 miles east of Los Angeles, covers nearly 800,000 acres of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. It set an attendance record in 2017, with more than 2.8 million visitors, according to the National Park Service.

Access to Joshua Tree will be restored in the coming days, park officials said Tuesday, without releasing a specific timeline.

The federal government has been partially shut down since December 22 over the issue of funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in a 2019 spending bill. President Donald Trump has demanded at least $5 billion for the wall, a request Democrats called a nonstarter.