Joshua Tree park might take 300 years to recover from shutdown

a climber scales a rock in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is getting back to normal staffing levels this week after 34 days of the area, which is bigger than the size of Rhode Island, being left to a handful of employees and volunteers to try to maintain, secure, and keep things from descending into complete and utter chaos. Now, as the park tries to move forward post-shutdown, some say it will take hundreds of years to repair the damage.

During the time of the shutdown, people inside the park toplled gates and posts, took vehicles into areas where off-roading is not allowed, and even damaged or completely destroyed some of the park’s iconic Joshua trees.

John Lauretig, a former ranger for Joshua Tree who now runs Friends of Joshua Tree, a nonprofit group that helped to organize volunteers to maintain the park during the shutdown, says that bringing back those trees will take hundreds of years.

“Because these trees are so big and they grow so slowly, it can take hundreds of years for a tree to mature,” Lauretig told the New York Times. “We say they grow an inch a year, and in a wet year it might grow five inches or a foot but in a dry year it might not grow at all.”

Curt Sauer, who was Joshua Tree’s superintendent until retiring in 2010, went even further.

“What’s happened to our park in the last 34 days is irreparable for the next 200 to 300 years,” he said at a rally this weekend (via the Desert Sun).

In addition to the physical damage at the park, Sauer also estimated that Joshua Tree had lost around $800,000 in entrance fees over the course of the shutdown.