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'It's Kind of Scary': Park Deaths Mount Amid Shutdown

Officials fear they can't properly reach victims
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2019 12:10 PM CST

(Newser) – Three people have died accidentally in US national parks during the federal shutdown—not a high number, but an added concern when 16,000 of 19,000 park workers are furloughed and parks aren't being properly maintained, the Washington Post reports. Each death was a tragic loss: A 14-year-old girl falling to her death Dec. 24 in Glen Canyon Recreation Area in Arizona; a man falling Christmas Day at Yosemite National Park in California; and a woman caught under a falling tree Dec. 27 at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which borders Tennessee and North Carolina. Four more deaths are believed to be suicides. The National Parks Service sees an average of six deaths weekly, but some say the Trump administration's decision to leave parks open without full staffing could affect rescue operations.

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A cross-country skier at Yellowstone might "suffer a heart attack—every year you have that—[and] we wouldn't be able to quickly respond," says Daniel Wenk, a former Yellowstone superintendent. And with parks open for the first time in a long-term shutdown, it's uncharted territory, with some officials shuttering park areas because they can't properly protect visitors or wildlife, or picking up trash and scrubbing toilets at their own expense. Among other park problems are inadequate sewage treatment—which one official notes can be dangerous—and little-known but critical jobs like wildfire prevention, timber sales, law enforcement, and general upkeep, per NPR. "It's kind of scary," says a town councilman in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. "We don't know what to tell our visitors." (Meanwhile, Trump says he may call a national emergency.)

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