SOUTH COUNTY — Pinnacles National Park, east of Soledad, is now closed to all visitors without confirmed campground reservations, officials announced last week.
The closure — which went into effect Jan. 5 — comes as the park tackles a lapse in federal funding due to the partial government shutdown. While the park remains open to campers, some of its services have either been limited or halted altogether, such as all ranger-guided programs and janitorial services.
“During the lapse in federal appropriations, Pinnacles National Park will remain accessible to visitors; however, services will be reduced as we are unable to fully staff our operations,” according to an alert on the Pinnacles’ National Park Service (NPS) website, which was last updated Jan. 5. A notice at the top of the page says the website will no longer be updated while the shutdown continues.
“Please be reminded that due to environmental, public safety or other unknown factors, visitor services may be diminished or additional areas may be closed,” the alert continued. “We will not be able to update roads and weather information.”
The Pinnacles’ western entrance, nearest to Soledad, is closed to all visitors, while the eastern entrance is only open to those with confirmed reservations at the Pinnacles Campground. Entrance stations remain unstaffed at the park, and restroom facilities are limited. Campers are being asked to haul away their own trash as well.
As the federal government shutdown enters its fourth week — now the longest shutdown in U.S. history — concerns are rising about the long-term effects the temporary closure might have on national parks, including the Pinnacles.
According to Pinnacles National Park Foundation Executive Director Jennifer Westphal, the park’s management decided to close the recreation area to everyone except campers due to “unlawful activity, sanitation issues and for the safety of visitors.”
“We commend our NPS partners for this decision to place the protection of visitors and park resources as a top priority but are worried about the long-term impacts that may result as the park is left without its dedicated staff and volunteers to care for the resources,” Westphal wrote in a Jan. 11 post on the Foundation’s website.
She said decades of effort can be undone in a short period of time, noting that the park’s perimeter fence that excludes non-native feral pigs is not being monitored or maintained.
“Re-invasion of the park by pigs would reverse thousands of hours of human effort and destroy previously restored critical habitat,” Westphal explained, adding that “noxious Italian thistle will go untreated, reversing 10 years of work over the course of one six-week window.”
Also being put on hold is the hiring of at least nine seasonal youth interns, seven seasonal staff members and two permanent employees in addition to the search for a new park superintendent. Westphal said the youth interns could lose up to half of their $6,000 education stipend due to the prolonged closure, unless they are able to extend their service by staying additional weeks.
“These personnel are integral to the successful operation of Pinnacles National Park, and we fear the delay in hiring will place park programs and planned projects in jeopardy, including park interpretive programming, habitat restoration efforts and long-term inventory and monitoring efforts,” she said.
According to Westphal, Pinnacles National Park is losing an estimated $45,000 per month in new Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act funding from entrance fees that would normally be collected during this time. These funds go toward visitor enhancement projects — such as the construction of the new east entrance station planned for 2019 — and deferred maintenance at the park.
“We ask you to call your representatives and urge them not to depend on a short-sighted, temporary fix that undermines the future of our park but to work to pass an appropriations bill to again open and fully staff our parks with the thought and care that these treasures deserve,” Westphal said.