TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Fred Stula is the executive director of the Friends of Saguaro National Park.
Right now, he’s more than a friend. He’s a volunteer.
Every Monday and Thursday, he empties all of the garbage cans in and around the park visitor’s center, which is closed because of the partial government shutdown.
“We’ve been reading about all these horror stories that parks are being closed and overrun with garbage,” he said. “The volunteers here don’t want that to happen to their park.”
Some of those parks include a partial shutdown of Yosemite, Yellowstone and Crater Lake. Sequoia, Guadalupe Mountains and Joshua Tree have all been shut down.
This is high season for Saguaro National Park which gets more than a million visitors a year and is responsible for $90 million in tourism revenue for the Tucson area.
Even though the visitors center is closed, the parking lot is buzzing with cars with Wisconsin, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Illinois and Washington license plates.
“People don’t want their park to have trash pile up,” Stula said. “When people come out to visit, they want to see a beautiful and pristine park.”
And that’s what visitors are finding.
“Everything is picked up,” said Linda Howe, a winter visitor from Wisconsin. “We wouldn’t have known it was closed if we hadn’t read the sign on the door.”
Stula is one of about 15 volunteers who are cleaning the trash at the picnic areas and hiking trails several days a week.
He picks up the trash at the visitors center on Mondays because “after a weekend it’s usually full,” he says.
Even though the parking lot is busy, Stula doesn’t know how many people have postponed their trips or even cancelled them but feels it could have a significant impact.
It has already had an impact on hundreds of school kids in Tucson who book trips far in advance. Because the schedule in booked solid, those kids won’t get a second chance to experience the mysteries of the park.
“To hike up the wash, to get to see the petroglyphs, to see saguaros and we make it like an outdoor classroom where they can engage,” he said. “That’s not happening right now with the park being closed.”
But hikers still arrive by the car load at some of the most popular hiking trails.
David Colpitts was getting ready for his hike along the Kings Canyon Trail to Wasson Peak. The 75 year old from Alberta, Canada says he’s not concerned about the warning signs which say hikers do so at their own risk.
There are no rangers.
“My intent is not to get in trouble,” he said. "It’s not an issue for me.
But it may be for others, especially out of state novice hikers.
“They desert can be a dangerous place,” Stula said. “It’s about safety.”
Stula and his wife packed up and left New England 18 months ago for the desert because they vacationed in Tucson and fell in love with Saguaro Park.
“To come out here and work for a place that I’m so passionate about, it’s a joy,” he said.
And it’s that passion which has him working as a volunteer to make sure the people who still come have a good experience.
“It’s about caring about what’s going on and making a personal difference,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today doing this.”