Carol Schneier, left, and Mary Kimberly pick up trash in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area's Paces Mill Unit. Photo: Jennifer Brett

As shutdown drags on, volunteers collect trash at National Park site

Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee, someone’s soggy football, tennis ball and softball, a few beer cans and a bottle that once held cheap sparkling wine went into a sturdy black bag.

“It’s not too bad,” said Mary Kimberly, one of the volunteers who arrived early on a drizzly Tuesday morning to pick up trash at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Paces Mill Unit. Given the ongoing government shutdown, the site operated by the National Park Service has been without regular maintenance. So a group of hikers decided to take matters into their own gloved hands.

“We’ve got to take care of this. Our mother’s not coming behind us to clean up,” said Bob Ruby, vice president of the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy. 


President Donald Trump, at an impasse with Congressional Democrats over funding for a wall on the Mexico border, plans to address the nation Tuesday night. The partial shutdown affects about 800,000 federal workers who are looking at a Friday without a paycheck in coming days.

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The ongoing shutdown is beginning to impact people from air travelers to food stamp recipients, and some of the most visible results have included the piles of refuse at Yosemite National Park.

So far local sites operated by the National Park Service haven’t experienced anything near the mess out west. Trash cans at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park have been sealed off, and someone has left a handwritten sign urging visitors to clean up after themselves.

“The government is currently shut down,” it read. “To keep our park beautiful, PLEASE TAKE YOUR TRASH WITH YOU.”

Someone's soggy, long-lost football was among the garbage collected along the Chattahoochee River Tuesday morning. Photo: Jennifer Brett

It seems folks are taking heed; the only piece of refuse visible at the Burnt Hickory Road entrance was a crushed beer can in the parking lot. It appeared to have been there for quite a while.

Alexandra Kemp took advantage of Monday’s pretty weather to visit the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Island Ford Unit, off Roberts Drive in Sandy Springs. A masters student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, she often volunteers through NASA at area schools. She hasn’t been able to do so during the shutdown, and her employed counterparts are warily contemplating a payday without pay.

Alexandra Kemp at one of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s sites, where the boxes people normally use to deposit fees have been sealed and the headquarters building has been closed. Photo: Jennifer Brett

“It’s sad,” she said. There were a few other hikers out on Monday (and a young woman who pulled up to the visitors center and learned with dismay that it was locked, meaning its restrooms were inaccessible). But there were no park rangers around, as usual.

“It’s super weird,” Kemp said.

A park ranger did cruise by the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Paces Mill Unit, where the volunteers were picking up trash on Tuesday. The ranger, one of only a handful still on the job at the 48-mile collection of park sites, was not authorized to speak to the media. She spent a little time chatting with volunteers, thanking them for their efforts, before heading on.

Elizabeth Marsala chatted with a National Park Service ranger as a group of hikers picked up trash. The ranger, who wasn't authorized to speak to the media, thanked the volunteers for their efforts. Photo: Jennifer Brett

“There’s got to be an answer,” said volunteer Elizabeth Marsala, who thanked the ranger for persevering. 

None of the volunteers expressed any support for Trump’s long-touted border wall, and weren’t sure what to expect from his national address. So they stuck to picking up water bottles, cigarette butts and other detritus.

“Because we live in an urban area, people treasure our parks,” said volunteer Carol Schneier, pleased at the relative tidiness. “We treasure our national treasures.”

Here's some of the junk volunteers picked up along the Chattahoochee River Tuesday morning. The site, like other local areas operated by the National Park Service, haven't seen anything like the mountains of refuse piling up at Yosemite National Park. Photo: Jennifer Brett

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