Shutdown causing trash, bathroom problems at Point Reyes seashore

01/03/2019

While Washington remains in a stalemate, the partial shutdown that has sent thousands of federal workers home without pay for the past two weeks is taking a toll on the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The holidays and a stretch of particularly sunny days spiked visitation last week, at the same time that services were halted in the park. On Drakes Beach, visitors snapped selfies mere feet from huge elephant seals, and hikers and beachgoers, finding public bathrooms locked, relieved themselves elsewhere. Garbage cans filled, and then overflowed.

“If there was one thing we could ask the public, it would be to pack out what they pack in,” park spokesman John Dell’Osso said this week. He is one of a small handful of seashore’s nearly 90 employees still on the job, along with the park’s law enforcement officers and two water treatment operators.

Like the shutdowns last January and February, this one has not closed the park entirely; campgrounds are open, for example, but the park is not enforcing the permit system. Full-service restrooms are closed, but vault toilets have been left open, at least until they are no longer safe. (Bring your own toilet paper.)

Mr. Dell’Osso said his greatest concern is for visitor safety, and the park made several closures mid-shutdown to address the stickiest spots. At Drakes Beach, the western end of the beach is now closed a half-mile from the parking lot to protect several pregnant or birthing elephant seals and to keep the public away from several aggressive males.

With help from the county, the park closed the road that leads to the Palomarin trailhead, where heavy traffic led to a serious trash problem. “People aren’t thinking about the lack of resources, and aren’t prepared before they get out here,” Marin County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Jim Hickey told the Light. Parking, he said, has been the most pressing problem for the three rotating deputies who patrol West Marin. Tourists heading for Muir Woods, which was closed, flooded Muir Beach instead, creating parking mayhem. Lt. Hickey said “the only saving grace is that typically January and February see the lowest number of visitors due to the weather.”

With the holiday weekends over with, he hopes things will improve, even in the continued shutdown. The federal standstill is centered around President Trump’s promise to build a wall and his pressure to allocate $5 billion in taxpayer money to build it—a project heartily opposed by Democrats, who take control of the House today. With the change of tide, the representatives today vote on two bills to fund most of the government through Sept. 30 and the Department of Homeland Security to Feb. 8. The Democrats propose allocating $1.3 billion for border security measures, such as enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing, but not a physical wall.

For the park service, Mr. Dell’Osso said that even in past shutdowns that were hard closures involving road blockades and extensive signage, typically back wages came through for employees. Some losses can’t be regained, however, such as the twice-weekly counts of elephant seals—females, pups and bulls at each haul-out location—taken at this time of year.

To stay updated on the seashore’s closures, see the  press releases posted at nps.gov/pore/index.htm or to tweets from @PointReyesNPS.