PENINSULA, Ohio — The partial government shutdown has left most of the employees of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park on furlough. And, while the park and its trails technically remain open with a skeleton staff of rangers working to protect visitors and park property, the restrooms are closed, the parking lots are not being plowed, and trash is not being collected.
That’s why four-year-old Charlie Comi of Stow wanted to step in and help.
“We were just very concerned when we saw on television that a lot of the other parks were having problems with trash and things. And we didn’t want to see that happen here,” said his mother, Virginia Comi.
The Comis frequently visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which they love. In fact, last September Charlie went through a program to become a Junior Park Ranger.
In doing so he took an oath.
“Basically to promise to love and take care of the park, and that’s what he did,” said his mother.
Wearing a vest with a Junior Park Ranger badge and carrying a paper bag, Charlie patrolled the park with his mother and picked up what others have left behind.
“A lot of fast food wrappers, that seems to be a very popular thing to leave behind. A lot of cigarette butts, that’s something we find. We do find a lot of animal waste bags, those get left behind a lot,” said Virginia.
“Charlie is really concerned that if it begins to pile up it could hurt the animals. That’s a big, big concern for him — that they will try to eat the trash. And, actually, we have found where animals have pecked open Styrofoam containers and things like that, and the trash will make animals sick,” she explained.
Deb Yandala, CEO of the non-profit conservancy for the park, praised the boy for his efforts.
“We have been advocating ‘leave no trace.’ We encourage people if they bring trash in, take it out with them,” said Yandala. “There’s nothing better than Junior Rangers. They do activities with park rangers and then they take an oath that they will protect this national park and every national park. And, seeing Charlie, he is fulfilling the Junior Ranger oath taking care of his park.”
Charlie’s mother said when they encounter one of the actual rangers in the park Charlie will wave and they will salute him back.
“This is such a beautiful place and such a wonderful thing to have here. I would just hate to see, you know, I’d hate to see it get ruined,” said Virginia.
Yandala said that after photos of the mess left in other national parks were released, other park visitors have also helped keep the park clean during the shutdown. She added that she’s grateful for all of the help but is also hopeful the shutdown will end soon.
“The longer this goes on the more potential damage to park resources, the harder it is for the park service to carry on planning, getting ready for our busy season in spring, summer and fall. So, this is really damaging to us and we, as the friends group of the national park, we are trying to help where we can but it’s financially costly to us as well, so we really hope the government re-opens.”