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Partial government shutdown shows our true colors as Americans and it’s not pretty
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

If the ongoing partial government has taught us one thing, it is we are a nation of slobs.

The fact national parks are being closed because there’s not enough staff to pick up after people who toss trash about, ignore posted rules, can’t police their own litter or even carry their own toilet paper when venturing to a park should tell you a lot about what ails America.

Yes, partisan bickering may be partially shutting down the federal government but indolence and self-centeredness is rotting America.

If you read accounts about the conduct at national parks that remained open for at least awhile as we close in on the two-week point of the Trump-Pelosi border wall hokey pokey, what is happening is a collapse of personal responsibility more so than a political stalemate. It’s funny that regardless of our political views we look at Washington, D.C., with complete disdain and blame those that don’t agree with us for being arrogant, uncivil, short-sighted, irresponsible hacks that are destroying this country yet we are mirroring their behavior.

For shortsightedness, it’s hard to beat going to a national park that you know has reduced staffing and not packing toilet paper. And let’s be clear on this point: If you use a toilet properly — flush it without putting stuff that doesn’t belong in the bowl, use the waste basket — and if it is overflowing take your trash with you, and don’t trash the overall restroom there aren’t going to be many problems. The same goes for pit toilets.

The fact there are less rangers shouldn’t be considered cart blanche time to cross fencing with “keep out” signs protecting fragile ecosystem restoration areas, to string lights on protected cactus, to ignore signs about going off trail, or taking vehicles into prohibited areas, wholesale littering or leaving all of your garbage at camp sites when it is clear there is no trash collection.

If you brought it in, you can take it out unless, of course, you expect the federal government to always pick up after you even in normal budget times if trash cans are full.

Let’s be clear. The issues with toilets, trash, and vandalism that national parks are experiencing now — or at any time for that matter — can be avoided if everyone acted responsibly.

But then again if people routinely think it is OK to blow through stop signs because there is no police officer around, embarking on a free-for-all in a national park by disregarding posted rules and common sense is simply more of the same.

Most of us, partial federal government shutdown or not, are guilty as charged. You can go hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail and rarely find any garbage a hiker or some other outdoors person left behind. Go to Yosemite National Park even with all park staff on deck and it’s a somewhat different story. It’s almost like many of us expect Yosemite to be like Disneyland where the price of admission should include having people who go around cleaning up after us.

But it is worse than that. We often have a self-entitled aura about is made worse by our refusal to suffer any level of discomfort that it may take to follow rules that are in place not to control us as they are for the greater good.

The Mt. Whitney Zone of the Inyo National Forest requires a permit to enter even for day use. That’s because even with limited numbers allowed in, the human traffic passing through to the tallest summit in the continental United States at 14,505 feet puts a strain on the ecosystem. What is left behind above 9,000 feet doesn’t decompose quickly and it can be deadly to birds and what animals manage to survive there. Besides packing out what you take in including garbage you create, the permits come with a special bag that includes chemicals encased within so if you have to do a No. 2 once you leave the Whitney Portal at 8,360 feet and head toward the summit you can so without creating environmental havoc. It’s not exactly pleasant to do what you have to do in a bag that you then break a seal on a chemical package before sealing the overall bag back up, and placing it in your backpack to take out with you. But it is essential to protect the fragile environment.

You’d be surprised at the number of people who use the bags and then simply toss them alongside the trail.

It is no different than the slobs who — after hiking to Telescope Peak at 11,048 feet over looking Death Valley — deface the rock at the summit by using acrylic paint to create a drawing or those who deliberately vandalize rocks and trees.

But then again in a time when people will ignore the ban on drones in national parks — besides being annoying they endanger wildlife such as nesting birds — so they can get a “killer” shot they can post on Facebook, what do we expect?

The underlying theme for all of the bad behavior in national parks currently taking place is to blame those responsible for the partial government shutdown. The people who should be blamed and held responsible for the bad behavior are those who are doing it.

Social media and newspaper coverage has made a big deal about the Ohio man who lost his life in Yosemite by continually tying it to the partial government shutdown.

He did not die because of the shutdown. He died because he chose to ignore repeated warnings all along the Merced River Trail that takes you to Nevada Falls to stay off the rocks because they are slippery.

Yosemite is not Disneyland. It is the wild. There are perhaps a half dozen places along the 750 plus miles of developed trails in the 1,189-square-mile vastness of Yosemite National Park that have railings with signs warning not to cross. Nevada Falls is one of them.

It’s us abundantly clear the biggest threat to our national parks isn’t Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, the Republicans or the Democrats. It’s all of us who bellyache about our leaders being arrogant and irresponsible but then turnaround and display the same wretched behavior.

Basically, Americans as a whole are showing their true colors as much as whatever side of the aisle you loathe back along the shores of the Potomac River.

As the comic strip character Pogo once uttered in the vibrant beauty of the black and white strip set in the Okefenokee Swamp as opposed to the Washington, D.C., Swamp “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.