‘A little gross:' Shutdown leaves restrooms in disarray on St. Croix riverway

The two-week-old government shutdown has been an unwanted visitor at the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, leaving restrooms in disarray and causing concerns about seasonal hiring.

When the government shut down on Dec. 22, the park’s headquarters in St. Croix Falls closed. Most of the park’s 30-plus full-time employees were furloughed, and a handful of law enforcement officers are now working without pay.

Garbage and vandalism haven’t been issues, as they have been at major national parks in the western U.S., said Deb Ryun, executive director at the St. Croix River Association, a nonprofit park advocacy group. But with no one to clean restrooms, human feces have been left behind, she said.

“They’re not being tended to. There are some closed, some open,” Ryun said. “It’s a little gross in some of the areas.”

The shutdown will enter its third week on Saturday, and there are no signs of a speedy resolution. Congressional Democrats remain opposed to President Donald Trump’s demands of $5.6 billion in funding for a southern border wall, and the president said Friday that the impasse could go on for months or a year.

Many of the 800,000 federal employees are furloughed. Others, classified as “essential” employees, are forced to work without pay. Congress has retroactively paid federal employees after previous government shutdowns, though there is no guarantee. Minnesota has about 18,000 federal workers.

The shutdown has delayed the hiring of 25 seasonal workers for the St. Croix national riverway. The hiring process includes a security clearance and needs to happen months before the busy season starts in April, Ryun said.

She was unsure whether her organization would start recruiting volunteers and interns this year if not enough National Parks Service employees would be in place to supervise them.

“It’s a ripple effect that really has long-term consequences, and I would say Jan. 30 is it,” Ryun said.

The impact is being felt at other National Park Service facilities in Minnesota, too. At the Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul, the Mississippi River visitors center is shuttered. Just beyond a closed gate, a sign explains that a lack of federal appropriations is to blame.

The rest of the Science Museum, operated by a nonprofit, remains open.

Earlier this week, people tried to illegally camp near Coldwater Spring in Minneapolis, part of the federal Mississippi River and Recreation Area, said Whitney Clark, executive director of the Friends of the Mississippi River.

“Do your job,” Ryun said, when asked what she would tell Congress and President Trump. “We’ve had an awful lot of time to know this was coming. The budget should’ve been passed before October. It is time to reopen and do our business as usual.”