NORTH ATLANTA — National parklands drew a lot attention last month, with headlines highlighting piles of trash and unusable restrooms during the partial government shutdown.
But while the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area fared better than most, it did not go unscathed.
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a national park system spanning 48 miles along the Chattahoochee River, from Lake Sidney Lanier to Paces Mill. The system includes Vickery Creek Unit in Roswell and Medlock Bridge Unit in Johns Creek.
The shutdown resulted in the closure of park facilities, such as restrooms and the Visitor Center at the Island Ford Unit. The parks themselves remained open.
“The public still had access to the 83 miles of trails in the park and the river, although the river was experiencing high flows during much of the shutdown period,” said Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Superintendent Bill Cox. “All of the usual park programming and activities were discontinued during the shutdown as was the collection of fees. The vast majority of the staff was furloughed, and the remaining staff was limited to protecting life and property.”
What helped the park fare better than most was the efforts of local volunteers, Cox added.
“Although our restrooms were closed and our routine trash pickup curtailed, we did not have major issues due to the fantastic effort volunteers made to ensure the trash was picked up from both the trails and the trash cans,” Cox said. “I think having their presence out in the park also reduced any potential opportunities for vandalism.”
This is not the first time that volunteers have elevated the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
“Many people don’t know this, but out of the 70 National Park Service units in the Southeast Region, CRNRA ranks fourth in total volunteer hours, averaging about 40,000 volunteer hours each year,” Cox said. “We have a tremendous network of volunteers that help keep the park running year round.”
One of the major contributors to this effort is the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy, the official friends group of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The conservancy helps advocate for the park and river as well as regularly volunteer.
“Our proximity to Metro Atlanta and the outstanding support from our friends group, the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy, and our visitors who volunteer to pitch in where needed is what helped to reduce the impact of the shutdown to our particular park,” Cox said. “Metro Atlanta has had a strong history of supporting CRNRA from the very beginning when the park was established in 1978. It was a civic-minded and engaged citizenry that helped to establish the park back then, and it will be a civic-minded and engaged citizenry that sustains the park now and into the future.”
It is uncertain whether there will be another government shutdown come Feb. 15. If there is, Cox said it will likely play out as it did before.
“To the degree we can stay accessible, we will, but facilities such as visitor center and restrooms will be closed here at CRNRA,” Cox said. “Also, routine activities such trash pickup and social media communication will cease to continue. In the event there is another shutdown, my hope is that there will be another ground swell of support by volunteers and park visitors willing to help.”