For over two weeks now, the government shutdown continues, adding unnecessary stress to roughly 800,000 Americans who rely on paychecks from the federal government. Some of those employees work in our National Parks, acting as stewards for those places and the integrity they carry. Twenty days without supervision in our parks has unfortunately led to a number of issues, like the fiasco in Joshua Tree with overflowing toilets and more locally, concern over the accumulation of trash in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). 

However, people are not taking that news sitting down. Outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists and others are rallying against those who use and abuse the parks during this time, in the place of the federal employees. In Colorado, two different groups plan to meet in RMNP this weekend to coordinate volunteer cleanups. Acting as a missionary for their distrust of the federal government, Jason Moore of the Libertarian Party of Colorado posted on Facebook, “I know we’d all like to show our voluntary spirit and advertise the Libertarian Party in some way during this shutdown, so I’d like to organize a cleanup at Rocky Mountain National Park this Sunday at 10 a.m.”

On a different online platform, Reddit, a single post on January 9 about the deteriorating conditions in RMNP launched a campaign to do the same thing as the Libertarian Party. It started with Michael LaNue writing, “Vandalism, dumping of trash and the buildup of existing waste has taken over RMNP in the past month and will continue to do so. As a regular RMNP visitor, I will be heading up to the park this weekend with the hopes of gathering and removing as much trash as possible and thought I would try to utilize Reddit to get the idea out.” Within 24 hours, 84 comments flowed in, offering advice and support. Updated on January 10, the original poster stated that the cleanup would begin at the Longs Peak Trailhead at 9:30 a.m on Saturday, January 12. 

LaNue, when we contacted him, commented, “the response was overwhelming and the community is coming together to do their part during the shutdown. I advise everyone this is at their own risk — we are simply attempting to remove any trash we can carry out.” His advice comes from the knowledge that part of the discontinued services in National Parks during a shutdown includes emergency personnel and volunteers should take heed of that.

In some cases, the damage from not maintaining a park poses serious problems for its future. The buildup of trash and waste from animals and humans often ripples negatively into a wild environment, causing more problems than just the aesthetic one. Unfortunately, it seems as if the tragedy of the commons rears an ugly head when no supervision exists. With the convenience and speed of online communities, however, concerned individuals have more power than perhaps they have ever had in history. And during this lengthy shutdown, perhaps the silver lining will be that we might learn the significance of powerful individuals working together on something that truly matters to them.