Nonprofit keeps Florida's national parks functioning during shutdown

In other states, visitors report overflowing trash, clogged restrooms

By Alex Finnie - Reporter

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. - As the partial government shutdown reached its 12th day, a private nonprofit group has stepped in help to keep Florida's national parks operating for visitors.

Elsewhere, particularly in the West, visitors are reporting overflowing trash cans, clogged toilets and vandalism. Some parks have even closed off certain areas out of concern for the safety of visitors and wildlife.

In Florida, while not all services are being offered during the shutdown, the employees with Florida National Parks Association are managing to handle basic upkeep -- for now.

All four parks -- Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park -- are shut down but accessible. The National Park Service says visitors may enter the parks at their own risk.

Thousands of National Park Rangers – who lead tours and aid lost or injured visitors among other duties -- have been furloughed until Congress and President Donald Trump can reach a deal to fund the government.

James Sutton, the executive director of the Florida National Parks Association, said his workers are stretched thin, taking on staff duties to help keep the parks running -- everything from tours to bathroom cleanup. 

"(It's) limited business. Not everything is open. So the ranger-led program, you are not going to get that. That is not happening," Sutton said. "There's 59 people on the payroll right now and those 59 people, typically, a lot of them are part timers. They are not full time."

Sutton said his volunteers have kept the Everglades National Park Visitor Center open, but the one at Biscayne National Park is closed. 

Luna Dong of Seattle is visiting Miami with her family and said the limited park services have put a damper on her South Florida vacation. 

"My parents, they come from China, and this is possibly the only time they will come to Miami and enjoy the National Parks. It's good that we can still enjoy it, but it's a pity that we cannot enjoy it fully," Dong said.

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