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Oregon State Parks workers to clean overflowing garbage on federal lands during ongoing shutdown

Some Oregon State Parks workers are now tending to federal recreation lands as the partial U.S. government shutdown continues with no end in sight.

People are still visiting trailheads, day-use parking lots and boat ramps on federal lands, but U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rangers aren't on duty. Oregon State Parks spokesman Chris Havel said that means in some instances trash cans are overflowing and bathrooms are getting icky.

Beginning this week, the state agency is pitching in.


"Where we have crews, where we have people already in place, as they go by a site and they see trash needs to be taken care of, they'll enter that site and take care of the trash," Havel said. "We hope to work our way up to helping with things like restrooms."

The restroom part needs a little more coordination first though, Havel said. Oregon state workers will only target areas where state parks lands are near federal recreation sites — mainly, the Oregon Coast, Willamette Valley and Cascade Range.

"It's certainly no great trouble for us to stop in, throw a bag in the back of our truck, check the restroom and then head on out," said Havel in an interview Thursday.

That said, Havel suggested outdoor enthusiasts consider reorienting their activities toward state, county or city sites that are staffed, at least in the near term.

He said a few state park crews had already taken the initiative to help out without being asked to in late December. Then last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown directed the agency to take a broad look at how it could help statewide.

Brown told reporters on a conference call last Thursday she was moved to act after going snowshoeing in the Santiam Pass area and noticing dirty bathrooms that were being used — even though signs said they were closed.

The sign at the Santiam Sno-Park restroom says closed, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Credit Chris Lehman / KLCC
The sign at the Santiam Sno-Park restroom says closed, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.

At the time of publication, it was unclear whether Washington State Parks would undertake a similar temporary assistance mission.

This Friday, the standoff between Congress and President Donald Trump over federal spending and a border wall will tie the 21-day record for the longest U.S. government shutdown. The standing record was set in January 1996 when President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich squared off over federal spending, tax cuts and an increase in the debt limit.

The current impasse has spurred other volunteer efforts to keep popular outdoor havens open and clean. Last Sunday, members of the Libertarian Party organized a work party to bag and haul away all the trash they could find on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This weekend, party volunteers will fan out across at least 15 national parks and historic sites to clean things up, including Yosemite and Lake Mead.

The private concessionaire that operates the National Park Inn at Longmire, Washington, stepped in to collect trash, maintain restrooms and subsidize snow plowing in Mount Rainier National Park for the first two weeks of this government shutdown. That agreement ended last weekend, forcing the closure of the last remaining area of Mount Rainier National Park that was open to private vehicles.

Chris Lehman / KLCC

Copyright 2019 Northwest News Network

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.
Tom Banse
Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.