As the sun rose over the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Linda Carney bent over a toilet, windshield scraper in hand.
“It’s the plumber’s daughter in me,” she joked, having used the scraper to remove frozen human waste from the side of the toilet.
Carney was one of about 10 Gardiner community members who decided to take matters into their own hands and clean up rest stops and remove garbage from Yellowstone on Saturday, two weeks into the partial federal government shutdown. National parks across the country have been left with no one to care for facilities despite many still being open to visitors.
Mike Skelton, owner of Yellowstone Wonders, a company that offers tours of the park, said he and others noticed trash was starting to pile up while doing tours recently. So he and a few other Gardiner and Emigrant residents gathered a group to hit the northern part of the park, between Gardiner and the Pebble Creek area in the northeastern part of the park.
“We’re locals and we love this park, so we don’t want it to look like trash,” Gardiner resident Paula Rainbolt said.
Volunteers cleaned rest areas from Tower Junction to Pebble Creek. They were set to go from Tower Junction to Gardiner on Sunday, eating pizza courtesy of K-Bar Pizza afterward. Conoco also donated gas cards to volunteers, and Yellowstone Forever donated some garbage bags. Many volunteers also paid for supplies out of pocket.
Trash around Yellowstone hadn’t piled up as much as they expected, volunteers said, though many bathrooms weren’t a pretty sight. One bathroom at the Hitching Post stop had human excrement all over the floor and a broken toilet seat. The other had puke and blood splattered all over the toilet and floor.
Despite the unpleasant nature of the work, Kelly Kirk said volunteers were happy to do it.
“People’s livelihoods depend on this — we’re all tied to the park,” she said. “And any excuse to get into the park, right?”
Volunteers brushed snow off entrances, cleaned toilets, replaced toilet paper and switched out garbage bags, and they’ll likely do it again most weekends, if the shutdown continues.
“I don’t know what happens if the (outhouses) fill up,” she said.