Around The Parks: A Blurring Of National Park Lines

The National Park Service, and its employees, should not be blamed for the parks' closure.

Around the country, as the partial government shutdown moves into its second week, taxpayers angry with the closure of national parks are showing their disgust through civil disobedience, mockery, and anger directed at the National Park Service.

The national park idea, long recognized as America's best, is being degraded and disrespected as the result of a much different idea—using the parks as leverage to try to gain the advantage in a political donnybrook.

Many of the government functions impacted by the shutdown, while important, simply don't have the same media interest—or impact on the general public—as closure of the national parks. It's hard to generate a compelling news photo based on the interruption of airliner safety inspection or suspensions of some FDA food safety inspections. Hang a closed sign on the entrance to the Grand Canyon, however, or put a belligerent congressman face-to-face with a ranger at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, and you have plenty of fodder for the prime-time network news.

The result is an agency and its employees caught in the middle of a fight it didn't create—or want.

Some critics are driven by anger over loss of income from the parks' closure. Others by disgust with Obama administration. Still others seemingly by the belief that the federal government has no right to close the parks. In the end, however, it's the rangers on the ground who are seen as the "face" of the shutdown.

Some Republicans in Congress, particularly in the House, blame the administration for the parks' continued closure, pointing out that that chamber voted to restore funding for the Park Service, among some other agencies and programs. But that legislation was tied to a demand that the Affordable Care Act be scaled back. Some protesting the parks' closure staged an "occupy" movement of Zion National Park last week, a protest that reportedly drew fewer than two dozen.

Many more turned out at Acadia National Park, where they simply walked around barricades to spend a beautiful fall afternoon on the park's Carriage Roads. One of those visitors was involved in a backcountry accident, and the resulting rescue severely taxed the limited resources of a park in "shutdown mode."

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At Acadia National Park this week, many cyclists routinely ignored the "closed" signs at the Carriage Roads. Rebecca Latson photo.

No doubt other parks saw visitors ignore the closure signs. There's even a "movement" encouraging people to enter the parks while they're closed.

In Florida, word that the waters of Everglades and Biscayne national parks were being closed led to ridicule of the Obama administration for "closing the ocean." However, the waters adjoining those two parks are as much part of the parks as the Thorofare region of Yellowstone National Park is part of that park, as the Tuloumne Meadows area is of Yosemite National Park, as the Maze is of Canyonlands National Park, and as the Cataloochee Valley is of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Too, Biscayne counts approximately 40 keys, or islets, within its watery landscape. That seascape, which comprises 95 percent of the park, also holds historic shipwrecks and fragile coral reefs that have suffered in the past from poachers of history. Those of Everglades hold vital habitat for fisheries.

When those parks were created, the Park Service was charged with overseeing those resources, and with reduced ranks spurred by the failure of Congress to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, the agency is sorely lacking the manpower to monitor those areas.

"Whether units of the NPS are historic buildings that can be physically closed by closing a door, or parks with entrance stations able to close with a staff person speaking to visitors or by pulling gates across roads or in the case of some of our nation's most sacred sites, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Jefferson Memorial to the new WW ll Memorial that do not have physical doors or gates to close - these places are all a part of the National Park System whether they have a structure to close or they are sites without a defined entrance point such as the Lincoln Memorial," said Joan Anzelmo, a former park superintendent and now a member of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

"The NPS is responsible for them and they are on federal lands. If left unstaffed in ways the public can see -- and more importantly in the ways the public can't see -- these places will not be preserved the way the agency has been directed to do by Congress," she added. "Congress can't direct the agency on one hand to protect the parks (all of them) so they are unimpaired for the future generations and then suddenly just say never mind- let them be open or let some of them be open. The U.S. National Park System has been an exemplar to the world and parks and the employees should not be played as pawns by Congress."

Regarding the situation at the National Mall, where attention has been focused on access, in particular, to the World War II Veterans Memorial, Ms. Anzelmo pointed to the status of all of the Mall's memorials as icons of our nation ... and also as potential targets for those who wish to do our country harm.

"I worked the shutdown in '95 and '96 and remember there were barricades placed at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in that shutdown. Fast forward these 17 years and the security concerns area thousand times what they were in the innocent 1990s especially at the iconic locations such as the National Mall and Memorials in Washington, D.C.," she said. "
There are many behind-the-scenes security-related components, including staff (uniform and plain clothes) that are in place to protect these sacred sites and the millions of people who visit them. When you furlough the vast majority of the workforce due to no appropriation you suddenly reduce the capacity to safely protect the sacred sites themselves and to protect the visitors who wish to visit them. This is very serious business in present day times."

That the National Park System has become a pawn in Congress's malfeasance is unfortunate, regrettable, and unnecessarily places the rangers, and the public, at risk.


No, ec, it isn't pretty simple. Large employers are required to provide their employees health insurance. The federal government is not exempt from this and so congress and their staff get health insurance through their job. Like many other corporations and governments, the health care is subsidized by the employer.

An amendment was attached to the ACA bill requiring congress (and their staff) to get their health insurance through the ACA. They are the only employer being forced to go through the ACA for health insurance. However, employers are not allowed to contribute toward health care costs on the ACA exchanges. But, the federal government is required to contribute to employee health care. Do you see the problem here?

So, the exemption is not to exempt Congress and their staff from the ACA - they are exempt by virtue of having a job that offers them health insurance. The exemption is for the government to be allowed to continue to pay for part of their health care, just like any other government employee and any other employee of a company, corporation, or other government entity.

From the Pisgah Facebook page today:

Greetings Pisgahteers,
we would like to thank the National Park Service for working with us through all of this mess. We will re-open today Wednesday October 9,2013 at 5PM. We are now booking rooms starting tonight, if you have reservations for this month they are still valid unless you call and cancel. Our gift Shop and Country Store are up and running now.The colors are beautiful and the Parkway is open. We look forward to having our guest back up here. See Ya Soon,

Guess that proves they don't need federal funds to operate.

Large employers are required to provide their employees health insurance.

Oh Contrare - The employer mandate was delayed - remember???

No, that doesn't prove it, ec. It proves that the Park Service backed down. It doesn't show that the inn's lessee is covering 100 percent of the costs of maintaining the infrastucture and property or covering the salaries of the rangers who, in essence, provide security and emergency response.

'Gestapo' tactics meet senior citizens at Yellowstone

NEWBURYPORT — Pat Vaillancourt went on a trip last week that was intended to showcase some of America’s greatest treasures.

Instead, the Salisbury resident said she and others on her tour bus witnessed an ugly spectacle that made her embarrassed, angry and heart broken for her country.

I am so glad these Gestapo tactics by the NPS are finally getting national attention. I have personally experienced such behavior in the National Parks I visit. Its been going on and getting worse for almost a decade.
Most want to say "they are just following orders", which is not acceptable by me. If I was given orders to act in this way, I would quit. Plus these government employees know its almost impossible to get fired, but they follow orders anyways.

Why is this stuff happening, I am not exactly sure, but it seems to me that the NPS is putting to much effort in Law Enforcement and forgetting about customer service.

Please accept my apologies - there is not a legal requirement for large businesses to provide healthcare for their employees. They do it willingly (when not required by labor contracts) to attract employees. Regardless,

Oh Contrare - The employer mandate was delayed - remember???

This is immaterial to anything else I wrote. Your conjecture that Congress is exempt or seeking an exemption from the ACA exchanges is incorrect.

Additionally, the business exemption came about because many businesses offer insurance that is below the minimum standard set by the ACA. The delay in the employer mandate allows these businesses, and their insurance companies, to alter their plans to meet the minimum requirements.

Claude Moore threatened the Park Service with a lawsuit. This group has a lot of wealthy and powerful friends with political connections. Langley Fork Park, a Fx County Park that operates on a NPS special use permit adjacent to Claude Moore, remains closed.

I found a more accurate (perhaps?) portrayal of the Mt Vernon "closure" attempt/situation.

According to this source, the NPS has barriacded several Mt. Vernon parking lots. Yet it is unclear as of yet who exactly owns the parking lots. The more important question is this: Does keeping the parking lot open "obligate expeditures" by the NPS. If a case can be made that it does not, then, come on, don't be silly, remove the barricades. We can blame congress and /or the president till the cows come home and we can quote press releases that imply that the parking lot is a vulnerable natural resource the NPS needs to protect, but actions like this will still make the NPS look petty and draconian to the public.

My opinion is that cases like the MT Vernon parking lots are an example of choices NPS leaders can make to NOT barricade a particular outside area because leaving a parking lot open will NOT be a violation of the Antideficieny Act.

I'm so glad Pisgah Inn and Claude Moore fought back (in an appropriate way). I think others should as well. Because:

The law is vague and confusing and implentation of it over the decades has been inconsistent. With the magnitude and speed at which the shutdown had to occur, it is a given that the NPS has made some mistakes on what they decided to close/barricade. My point of view is the NPS approach should have been to err on the side of common sense and courage with an understanding that no one is going to be indicted for not strictly following the vague and complex Antideficiency Act.

Ref: Yellowstone story: The rangers are worn out, frustrated and discouraged. The people are upset and put upon. It is a given there will be exchanges of harsh words during some of those interactions. NPS LE supervisors are responsible for trying to prevent these situations but I have been there. Sometimes I did lose my patience and say something that would look bad in print. Othertimes the public twisted my words unfairly. Rangers and the public are going to hurt each other's feelings during this shutdown, many times. I have compassion and forgiveness for both.

Kurt, I have had High West and you are completely correct Sir!

I bow down to the superiority of Utah whiskey! ;)


It proves that the Park Service backed down.

Are you saying the Park Service has the arbitrary authority to overrule the shutdown? Well then, I guess they can go ahead and open everything else as well.

This is immaterial to anything else I wrote. Your conjecture that Congress is exempt or seeking an exemption from the ACA exchanges is incorrect.

I didn't say they were exempt. What is different is that they are getting massive subsidies. not available to the average citizen. That is what the House Republicans asked to be removed.

This article is extremely questionable. It is written with a definite bias. And where inside Yellowstone is there a "private dude ranch?"


Evaluating a source doesn't mean blanketly accepting or rejecting everything from that source, as our fair fellow EC espouses. It means specifically acknowledging the shades of gray that reality consists of, instead of the black or white/good or bad/blah or blahblah dichotomies. I'll grant, of course, that an established track record such as Breitbart or FauxNews, the evaluation may have a shorter fuse than from more objective sources.

Rick - Now that's two posts of yours upon which I agree though I would love to know what you consider to be "objective sources" ? Huffpo and MediaMatters?

Unfortunately, wein my opinion we no longer have fully objective sources anywhere.

Lee - isn't there some kind of ranch near Tower Junction that isn't open to the general public?

The ranch near Tower is the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. The Yellowstone Association uses it for its field schools. Great facility!

And like the Lamar Ranger Station, the ranch is owned entirely by the park. It is not in any way a "dude ranch."

My guess is that is what the author was referencing. BTW - I too dismissed the story as being hyperbolic.

What is different is that they are getting massive subsidies. not available to the average citizen. That is what the House Republicans asked to be removed.

So what you are saying is that Congress and staffers should be treated differently than everyone else who has health care through their job, including all other federal workers.

Dahkota, let's just hope that American memories remain fresh enough to send ALL incumbent Congresscritters out to seek other jobs next time an election comes around. It's past time for a completely fresh start.

So what you are saying is that Congress and staffers should be treated differently than everyone else who has health care through their job, including all other federal workers.

No, I am saying they should not get a plan that is far superior to what is available to the vast majority of the public. They already are treated much differently. They establish their health plan. Employees don't determine what they get from their employers.

"Wyoming Bison vs. Government Shutdown"

Kurt, I'm pretty sure that Federal funds pay for the utilities and building maintenance for the golf course on Andrews. It never closed. I can't proof it.

This whole thing is a farce. There is no "shutdown". According to CBO numbers 83% of the government is still being funded. What is open and what is closed at the margins is purely arbitrary and the fact that some things were closed and now open and/or vice versa is just proof of that.

This very government that you are all railing about is the exact same group you want to turn over 20% of our economy to and bet your life on. Heck, they can't even get a website to run, how are they going to run our healthcare system?

Then why was Michelle Bachmann cackling about the shutdown being exactly what she wanted and making that "if I knew what an orgasm was this would be my orgasm face" face?

My wife is ordered not to work. She is not being paid. Whatever fantasy world you hypothesize about, our family income IS shutdown and it was done by the people YOU SUPPORT. Go play in someone else's family.

She is not being paid.

But will be. Wish I could stay home and be paid

our family income IS shutdown and it was done by the people YOU SUPPORT

No, I don't support the Democrats that voted overwhelmingly to keep the parks closed.

OK, folks, we've definitely run the course on this thread. But don't worry, there's one or two being queued up for tomorrow that I'm sure will draw you in like moths to a flame.