Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The U.S. National Park Service announced Sunday that it will use reserved money from visitor fees to fund operations of parks affected by the ongoing partial government shutdown.
Deputy director of the National Park Service, P. Daniel Smith, said the agency was taking the "extraordinary step" of using entrance, camping, parking and other fees collected from park visitors that would typically be used for future projects at parks to fund the most highly visited parks.
"While the NPS will not be able to fully open parks, and many of the smaller sites around the country will remain closed, utilizing these funds now will allow the American public to safely visit many of our nation's national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve," Smith said.
The funds will be used to clean up trash, clean and maintain restrooms, bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas and restore accessibility to areas that have so far been off limits due to the shutdown.
Smith noted that the agency had received more than $2 million worth of donations and in-kind services from a number of states, private concession companies, and park nonprofit groups to help more than 40 parks continue to provide key services for visitors, but "it has become clear that highly visited parks with limited staff have urgent needs that cannot be addressed solely through the generosity of our partners."
"After consultation with the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, it has been determined that these funds can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to highly visited parks during the lapse in appropriations," said Smith.
The statement didn't clarify how much money would be spent or which parks would receive funding.
Theresa Pierno, the president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, criticized the Park Service for "robbing" from fee collection rather than working to end the shutdown and the organization estimated the agency had already lost more than $6 million in fee revenue.
"It's incredibly concerning that the Acting Interior Secretary is putting political pressure on Superintendents to keep parks open at the expense of parks' long-term needs and protection," Pierno said. "For those parks that don't collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors. Draining accounts dry is not the answer."