WASHINGTON — As people clamor to get outdoors after months of being told to stay inside, the area's parks are experiencing a new kind of crisis: a trash crisis.
The banks of the Potomac River near Chain Bridge, Pimmet Run and Fletcher's Cove have become overrun with litter, according to regular visitors.
But the National Park Service is telling eager volunteer organizations its operations cannot support regular volunteer cleanup efforts because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The volunteer program at the C&O Canal National Historical Park is currently suspended until further notice due to concerns about COVID-19,” said a memo sent to one volunteer group from a National Park Service representative.
"This includes trash clean-ups," the memo continued. "Park staff is currently working hard to bring essential operations back online. Park maintenance staff does not have the capacity to pick up large trash dumps."
On Friday, large mounds of trash littered both banks of the Potomac near Chain Bridge down to the Reservoir Road area. Large groups of young adults were seen swimming on trash-strewn banks near Pimmit Run on the Virginia side.
Two people have drowned in the river since May 8.
The National Park Service is trying to alert users that they should check ahead of time before visiting parks to be sure all facilities are open and available.
"We want to empower our visitors to recreate responsibly," National Park Service spokesperson Jonathan Schafer said. "Our visitors need to know that if you brought it with you, you need to take it out with you too."
Schafer explained that some trash and maintenance operations remain impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
C&O Canal National Historical Park superintendent Tina Cappetta said the agency is working hard to bring back volunteers.
“We value and miss our park’s volunteers, and their safety always comes first," Cappetta said. "We are in the process of determining how we can welcome them back safely, and we’re looking forward to seeing them soon.”