By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Joshua Tree National Park will stay open during the partial U.S. government shutdown, officials said on Wednesday, reversing an announcement earlier this week that the famed desert preserve in California would close because of sanitation issues and damage.
The National Park Service (NPS) said in a statement they had determined that funds generated by recreation fees could be used to pay maintenance crews so that Joshua Tree could remain open.
"The park will also bring on additional staff to ensure the protection of park resources and mitigate some of the damage that has occurred during the lapse of appropriations," the statement said.
U.S. national parks have not been given a blanket order to close during the budget showdown between President Donald Trump and Democrats in the House of Representatives, now in its 19th day, that has hit a broad swath of the U.S. government.
Some parks have been closed to the public due to a lack of staffing, while others have kept gates open but were not providing any staff or services.
Operations and access to northern parks, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, are typically scaled back during winter because of snow.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah said on Twitter this week its visitor center would remain open until Jan. 10 due to a donation from a non-profit group.
Yosemite National Park also said earlier this week the John Muir and Mist Trails to Vernal and Nevada Falls, as well as Tuolumne and Merced Groves, would be closed from Jan. 5 for "safety and human waste reasons."
Joshua Tree, named after the spiky yucca plants that grow across its desert expanse, had remained open, with many visitors taking advantage of the unstaffed entrance to skip the usual $30 fee.
In announcing on Tuesday that it would close, the NPS cited sanitation issues and said motorists were also caught driving off roads, destroying trees and other park features.
The news angered conservationists and others, who took to social media to express disgust that visitors would damage the park.
Trump has vowed to keep the government partially closed until Congress approves funding for an expanded barrier along the U.S. border with Mexico.
The president walked out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday over funding for the border wall and said on Twitter the White House meeting had been a "a total waste of time."
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Paul Tait)