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As Shutdown Drags On, Volunteers Step In To Clean Up Nevada's National Parks, Rec Areas

Heidi Kyser

The partial government shutdown has caused some 3,400 federal employees in Nevada to go on furlough or work without a paycheck.  


Many of those employees work in our popular national parks and recreation areas.  


Attempting to fill in the gaps is an army of volunteers who pick up trash and monitor trails.

“I think that people hear that the shutdown is happening so there is that free for all mentality," said Leonie Mowat with the Southern Nevada Conservancy.

Mowat's group partners with the Forest Service to provide volunteers for Mt. Charleston throughout the year but she said the shutdown has created a perfect storm. 

More people are on the mountain because of the snow and the holidays and because of the shutdown, restrooms, which have trash cans in them, are closed. Those factors have combined to have even more trash in popular sledding and snow play areas.

Right now, only Old Mill and Foxtail areas and the restrooms there are open. The only reason they are is staff from Lee Canyon Ski Resort are managing those locations, Mowat said. All other trailheads managed by the Forest Services are closed that includes the bathrooms located there. 

The closed restrooms have also caused a problem with human waste. 

“They are seeing areas where there is human waste being left," Mowat said, "They are the typical locations that were happening before where people just couldn’t wait.”

Since those areas are now a biohazard, volunteers can't clean up the area. Mowat said because of the furloughed workers and the snow they don't have a plan as of yet to clean up the problem.

That particular problem has not been discovered at another popular outdoor location, Red Rock National Conservation Area.

Patricia Potter is with Friends of Red Rock Canyon. She told KNPR's State of Nevada the shutdown means no volunteers, except those responsible for the desert tortoise and hummingbird habitats, are allowed to formally work in the area.

“We have volunteers who on their own, as citizens, are regularly driving the scenic loop and reporting back to Friends of Red Rock and to our BLM colleagues,” she said.

Potter said the shutdown and the subsequent furlough of federal workers are coming at the worst time for the recreation area.

“I can tell you that this shutdown does have a direct impact on Friends… Friends is a 501c3. We depend on donations. This furlough is coming during the highest visitation point in the year," she said.

The Friends of Red Rock has given more than $2 million in direct donations to the conservation area since it was founded, Potter said. But beyond the money, the number of volunteer hours the Friends oversees a year is the same as 13 full-time employees. 

Mauricia Baca is with Get Outdoors Nevada. She said people don't know just how much volunteer organizations and nonprofits help public lands. 

“Volunteers in public lands really are a critical piece of the puzzle," she said.

Baca pointed out that in Southern Nevada alone there are 7.5 million acres of public land, which is far more than can be managed by the number of federal employees.

Nonprofits and formal volunteer groups like church, community, and school organizations fill the gap and provide services ranging from trash pickup to working in the visitor center to trail management and revegetation.

The shutdown means those volunteers cannot communicate with the federal employees they normally work with, meaning important work on public land is not being done.

“It really impacts our ability to be the cooperators that we would like to be with our federal partners,” Baca said.

Mauricia  Baca, Get Outdoors Nevada;  Leonie Mowat, Southern Nevada Conservancy;  Patricia Potter, Friends of Red Rock Canyon

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.