JOSHUA TREE — Joshua Tree National Park Superintendent David Smith thanked the community Thursday for loving the park and enduring shutdowns and growing pains.
“The public is the voice of Joshua Tree,” Smith said. “I am committed to making your life easier.”
Smith and his team at Joshua Tree National Park held an educational community meeting Thursday night at Copper Mountain College’s Bell Center
Smith said visitor numbers are expected to reach 3.1 million during this year’s tourism season.
“We have flooded our park with park rangers,” Smith said of his growing team.
The visitation numbers are a huge leap from a few years ago. In 2012, the park had about 1.3 million visitors, according to its official reports.
During the government shutdown earlier this year, many things went wrong: people drove off roads, damaged to trees, lit illegal campfires and left human waste.
Smith said much of the damage was halted due to the help of dedicated volunteers helping to protect the park.
“This has been a crazy year,” Smith said. “Your efforts allowed the park to continue to operate. I just want to thank you for a job well done!”
The holidays are also a popular time for visitors.
Last year, the national park set a new record with more than 22,000 visitors over the Thanksgiving holiday. All 540 campsites were full and at the west entrance in Joshua Tree, the line of vehicles waiting to enter the park was sometimes a mile long, according to park spokesman George Land.
The park staff invited the public to explore future management strategies for visitation and capacity issues Thursday night.
The participants could circulate through five information stations. Each was staffed with experts providing information on topics relevant to visitor enjoyment and park use.
“Tonight we are embarking on the pre-planning measures,” Smith said. “I really need your input tonight.”
The park staff will conduct two more community meetings outside of the Morongo Basin in an effort to reach more visitors.
The next meeting will be Oct. 7 in Los Angeles followed by an Oct. 29 meeting at Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella.