Around The Parks: Vandals, Occupiers And Cyclists

As the government shutdown drags into its second week, there are increasing risks of vandalism in the National Park System and possibly even poaching, according to past National Park Service personnel.

And in some parks, visitors are simply ignoring "closed" signs and heading off into the landscape. That was the case at Acadia National Park this past weekend, and one of the park's visitors needed to be hauled out to safety on a litter after injuring herself.

The woman was one of crowds of visitors who entered the park despite the closure signs and barricades. Many pedaled off down the Carriage Paths, while this 69-year-old Portland, Maine, visitor fell while hiking on Flying Mountain.

Ranger Ed Pontbriand, one of just four rangers on duty in Saturday, told the Bangor Daily News that trying to keep visitors out of Acadia was like "herding ants."

Out on the West Coast, meanwhile, vandals have hit Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, where they cut open locks to gates barring entry to the recreation area in California. Though seemingly innocuous, NRA officials were concerned that visitors unaware of the closure could find themselves deep in canyons where they could be trapped by wildfires. Southern California currently is at high risk of fires due to dry conditions and hurricane-force winds, according to

"October is notorious for California wildfires," says meteorologist Jon Erdman. "The largest wildfires on record in the state was the Cedar Fire in San Diego County in October 2003, charring 273,000 acres, over 2800 structures, and claiming 14 lives."

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Photo by David Graves, NPCA.

Meanwhile, a Springdale, Utah, businessowner frustrated with the closure of Zion National Park organized an "Occupy Zion" protest to raise attention to the loss of business.

"Obviously, I’m not too happy about it," James Milligan, owner of Zion Outfitter, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "This shop is my livelihood here and I haven’t had a customer in a week. Rangers will get their backpay, but what will people in these communities get?"

Across the National Park System, the absence of rangers leave the parks targets for vandals, according to Alan O’Neill, who is retired now but was superintendent of Lake Mead National Recreation Area during the last government shutdown, in 1995-96.

"In the past, when we didn’t have eyes and ears out there and volunteers and others, we experienced tremendous vandalism. We experienced gang assembly in some of the areas closest to Los Vegas," he recounted during a phone call Friday. "The vandalism just increased incredibly during those times. Sometimes we don’t think about that, but people are not happy. And angry people do strange things. We found sledge hammers (taken) to the bathroom toilets, and the mess that we had to clean up after that. That’s what you’ve got to expect, and I expect that’s going to happen this time."

Dennis Schramm, who was superintendent of Mojave Desert National Preserve during the last shutdown, agreed.

“In the Mojave, the biggest concern is in the backcountry where you don’t have control of every road coming into the preserve, and you don’t have enough eyes and ears out there," he said. "There are cultural resources, natural resources. We’ve had cactus poaching in the past, deer poaching, so there’s a number of things that can go on and you don’t have enough eyes out there to keep an eye on it."

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Photo by Tim Stevens, NPCA.

While sportsmen's groups are concerned that the ongoing shutdown will imperil hunting seasons, there also are concerns that hunters on lands that are open and adjacent to national parks could stray into them, unknowingly or otherwise, and take park wildlife.

With park staffs reduced by furloughs, those units with elk, deer and other hunting prey lack the resources to adequately patrol boundaries during hunting season. While they do have boundary patrols occuring, those resources have been diminished by furoughs, one park ranger told the Traveler.


We need to take back our parks and memorials. The federal government has proven that they can not be trusted anymore with parks and memorials. They should not be allowed to use OUR lands as political footballs. This is the most closed and control freak administration I have ever seen.

NPT is disgustingly trying to justify this abuse, this is so telling. Johnathan Jarvis needs to go, immediately. I'd love to know who in the USFWS blew off Jarvis's call to close. Of course the NPS followed orders and then some...

Perhaps, beachdumb, you could come out from behind your nom de plume and let us know your actual name, where you live, and your business interests, so we could better understand your ire.

Kurt, I am an American who is disgusted by actions of the NPS and seen access continually lost to Americans by the NPS oppresiveness. It really bothers me that NPT attempts to blame everyone except the NPS or adminstration. It really bothers me that NPT defends this gross abuse.

Beachdumb, what the Traveler has done in comments is point out that Congress controls the federal purse strings, and without funding government, including the NPS, can't operate. It would seem the blame would lie with Congress.

Kurt - Congress certainly deserves its fair share of the blame, especially the Democrats that voted overwhelmingly to keep the parks closed. But, they are not to blame for the properties that are shut down that aren't dependent on current operating funding. Where that blame lies - whether in the NPS or higher up - is not clear but what is clear is that someone(s) is trying to create pain where there is no need for pain to exist.

EC, I hope to get more into that angle tomorrow, but the fact remains that lands within the National Park System were set aside for preservation/conservation and public enjoyment today and generations from now.

There are cultural and historical artifacts as well as natural resources scattered throughout the 401 units of the system, and to just leave them open for all-comers could jeopardize those resources.

We can only hope there won't be widespread problems with vandalism and other crimes in parks during the shutdown, such as that which occurred in state parks in Minnesota during a shutdown of that state's government in the summer of 2011. Idiots will be always be with us, but they thrive on what they perceive to be opportunties for mischief.

Well, beachdumb, it really bothers me that NPT is overrun with the apologists for the talking points of the right wing. Right wing talking points do not become 'fact' with repetition. Refusing to debate such "facts" with ec and others is not conceding anything. It is just trying to stay out of the mess.

No one I know of within the NPS sought this shutdown. When the right wing reps like Bachmann one day cackle with glee over the shutdown that they created, and the next day try to blame the administration for it, the reality disconnect is jarring.

I agree Rick B, it is disconcerting to see the comments that are such personal attacks on the agencies of government including the NPS, and or individuals associated with it. These comments seem quite resentful and negative to me and are based on what these people perceive to be the truth (I respect that part of it), but no thought is ever given that other persons may feel quite differently about the issues discussed. It should be noted that I have been informed that the Association of National Park Rangers had to close their facebook page due to the hate comments being posted on it. We can all agree to disagree, still have discussions on the issues and maintain friendships. But ideological points of view rammed down other peoples throats does seem to be beyond the pale. Thank you Kurt for this great website, I generally read most of the comments through, at times, I do profoundly disagree with the opinions expressed, however I do not feel negative or hateful thoughts just because someone disagrees with what I think the issue is. None of us would last very long on the job, with our spouses, offspring, friends, etc. if we brooked no compromise or respect for other interests or points of view, at least that has been my own life experience.

Rick B--You make the key point: the NPS did not shut the government down; the Congress did by failing to agree on national prioriities. I have to laugh at the House that thinks it can reopen those parts of the government that it wants open while keeping all the rest of it shuttered. As last week's Economist asked, "Is this any way to run a country?"


Lucky huh?

President’s Favorite Golf Course on Partially Shut-down Military Base Remains Open

By Alec Torres

October 7, 2013 2:24 PM






If President Obama decides to play his 36th round of golf this year, one of his favorite golf courses, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, luckily remains open, despite the base’s being partially closed. As Bloomberg reports, though some amenities, such as the base’s grocery store, are closed, the golf course will remain open. The grocery store’s closure forces the troops to shop at local stores, which cost about 30 percent more, according to Lieutenant General Raymond Mason, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics. Air Force captain Lindy Singleton, chief of public affairs for the Eleventh Wing, explained that the course remains open because it’s financed via user fees.

Via Breitbart.

It is simply a charade that the well publicized closures relate to a lack of funds due to the shutdown.... According to Drudge, 78% of the government is functioning.. the closures are designed to maximize the pain among the citizenry so that they will pressure their legislators.... parks, veterans affairs, food inspection. private businesses on Fed land, on and on and's as simple as that.

I look forward to your investigation of this 'angle' tomorrow Kurt, but I won't hold my breath.

Mike, from the story itself:

The Andrews Air Force Base golf course is funded through user fees and that’s why it remains open, said Air Force Captain Lindy Singleton, chief of public affairs for the 11th Wing at Andrews.

I was a Navy brat. Golf Courses and PX/Exchanges operate without Congressional appropriations. Those facilities generate their own revenue to fund their operations. However, the Military Commisaries are closed because they need the appropriation from Congress in order to operate. It is Joint Base Andrews, btw, I wish the press would get the name correct.

NPS Operations, which account for the bulk of the NPS budget, require an annual appropriation from Congress. If the Operation of the NPS didn't require that appropriation the NPS wouldn't have to pare its operations to the bone.

FYI, the commisaries reopened today, unless today was their usual closed day, in which case they will open tomorrow.

I have to laugh at the House that thinks it can reopen those parts of the government that it wants open while keeping all the rest of it shuttered.

Why? It makes perfect sense that you would move forward on things upon which you agree and negotiate on the rest.

Nahw - there's no politics in what is being shut down and what is being opened.......

Its all impartal and by the book. (eyes rolling)

FYI, the commisaries reopened today

Sara - does that mean they no longer need appropriations from Congress? Or did someone just make another arbitrary decision?

According to news reports, most DOD civilian employees went back to work today, after the Sec. of Defense got a legal interpretation of the bill Congress passed to ensure military personnel were paid during the shutdown. The interpretation was that the bill "allows military commanders to bring back employees who "contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members."

Perhaps this accounts for the commisaries being reopened.

Jim is correct, Hagel now considers the commissary employees as essential to meet the morale and welfare standard.

Well put, Rick Smith.

Yes Kurt... I read that... the golf course operates on user fees and that's why it's open....but Claude Moore operates on user fees and it's closed, the pisgah inn operated on user fees and it's closed, the private homes on Lake Mead were paid for with private 'user fees' and the residents have been removed....

You can split hairs anyway you want but this 'government closure' is political, pure and simple. I know you and many of your readers are very deeply invested in the NPS culture but you can see it much will it take for some of you to acknowledge it?

You can split hairs anyway you want but this 'government closure' is political, pure and simple.

You're absolutely right there, Mike. And if the House had passed a CR two weeks ago, we wouldn't be discussing this.

Or if Boehner would just allow Congress to vote on a clean CR now, we won't be talking about this tomorrow.

I think a permit for a rally on the National Mall, in which some 30 Members of Congress(from both of the 2 major parities) planning to attend or speak at, probably cannot be denied by the Park Service. I hope the permit required Porta-Johns, because that rally seems to be on 10th Street and is probably nearly a mile to the closest open restroom facilities(Ronald Reagan Building foodcourt at 12th & Pennsylvania).

Cute Kurt... Congress is a co-equal branch of government with the Executive. Fiscal bills must originate in the House. The House is under no obligation to pass anything requested by the Executive...

Politics is the art of Compromise and we will eventually have some level of Compromise. The President is in an untenable position. He will eventually negotiate some of this. Until he decides to compromise he is using the powers of his administration (perhaps directly, but more likely through a Corps of like minded bureaucrats) to bludgeon the people of the United States. It's nice to be King... but then we don't have a King do we?

Mike, tell that to the Speaker;-)

Couple of tidbits from today's news:

* Rep. Devin Nunes, a conservative Republican from California's Central Valley, on Monday accused freshman GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of misleading House Republicans that they could dismantle the Democratic health care-reform law known as Obamacare by forcing a government shutdown.

*Americans blame Republicans for the partial government shutdown, two new polls find as the budget standoff veers closer to the deadline for raising the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit.

I'm all for negotiating, but the current state of affairs sounds like extortion. With the world's economy at stake. What were these guys doing during the summer?

Just to add my 2 cents worth. The NPS's policy in a shut down should be "what do we have to close and what can we keep open? No administration should use the NPS as a politcal tool. Closing even one thing that isn't necessary like the Pisgah Inn or the National Mall is tyrannical.

PS first time posting in a long while, glad to see that wierd thing I always had to guess the letters in gone. Thanks

Mike G - If it's true that "Politics is the art of Compromise," it unfortunately seems to be a lost art in Washington these days.

probably cannot be denied by the Park Service.

And why would that be?

current state of affairs sounds like extortion.

Extoration? The house Republicans approve 99.+% of the CR but ask that Congress live by the Obamacare rules the public has to observe and that the individual mandate be delayed in line with the Corporate mandate delay and you call that extortion?

Tell me, which of those two requirements do you find unacceptable?

Next weeks planned actions for Mt Rushmore...

compliments of Powerline

Brenda Barton, an Arizona state representative, today compared the President to Hitler. It looks as if things are really spinning out of control. We need to get this issue resolved quickly. Here is part of her quote. “Someone is paying the National Park Service thugs overtime for their efforts to carry out the order of De Fuhrer… where are our Constitutional Sheriffs who can revoke the Park Service Rangers authority to arrest??? Do we have any Sheriffs with a pair?” she wrote.


"...ask that Congress live by the Obamacare rules the public has to observe."

I'm not disagreeing with that idea, but I'm wondering if it's more soundbite than substance. Several recent articles have pointed out that those who currently have health insurance (through their jobs, private insurance or Medicare) won't have to make any changes under the ACA unless they want to do so. That would seem to apply to Congresspersons, so I'm not clear on which "rules that the public has to observe" need to be applied to Congress.

Now, if the idea is that Congress should be limited to the same health care plan as any other federal employee, including the guy who cuts the grass on the National Mall and the one who cleans the bathrooms in the Capitol, I absolutely agree with that!

Several recent articles have pointed out that those who currently have health insurance (through their jobs, private insurance or Medicare) won't have to make any changes under the ACA unless they want to do so.

And hundreds of articles have shown where that isn't true. But that is a different issue than Congressional coverage.

House Republicans asked that Congress be under the same rules as everyone else. If they already are - as you suggest - it would not be an issue. Dems could just say fine. They didn't. If they aren't under the same rules, then why would it be wrong to ask that they are?


Yikes. I think every state legislature has to have at least one "colorful" character.

I think tomorrow might be a bad PR day for NPS with that immigration rally controversy. Also, the Claude Moore Farm group is going to having a "Freedom from Tyranny" rally in front of Interior HQ.

Shutdown of Government Activities versus Closure of Public Lands

A nonpartisan FYI from a former ranger trying to understand this madness:

And forgive me if this stuff is really boring. Indeed I believe that is part of the problem. There is so much complicated legal, bureaucratic verbage that I fear the actual reality of how the NPS should respond to a shutdown is being misinterpreted by everyone, including agency leadership as well as myself.

1. The "shutdown" procedures as outlined by the OMB memo instructs agencies they can only allow "activies" under a shutdown that are in accordance with the Antideficiency Act of 1870. In this case "activities" refers to actions of government employees/agencies that obligate expediture...not activities of private US citzens on government lands.

2. The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal employees from "making obligations and expeditures" and from "volunteering" during a government shutdown. (This is why NPS employees can not volunteer during the shutdown, or at least not without violating this act)

3. The Antideficiency Act allows for agencies to employee services to respond to emergency and to protect property. (This is why most parks are allowed to have the same number of law enforcement and emergency response rangers on duty during the shutdown as they do during normal times. In many cases they have more LE rangers on duty than normal because OMB requires that all vacation leave, training, and travel is canceled during a shutdown. Also many maintenance personnel remain on duty under the "protect property" function.)

4. The Antidficiency Act was written in 1870 before the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and to my best knowledge has not been amended to address the issue of visitation by the public to a national park during the event of a shutdown.

5. OMB instructed the NPS (and other federal agencies) to perform an "orderly shutdown."

6. What constitutes a "shutdown" was left to the interpretation of agency leaders and NPS leaders appear to have interpreted the word "shutdown" to mean closure of public access to all national park facilities and lands.

7. The Antidfeciency Act states that activities of "obligation of expediture" that are prohibited during a shutdown only applies to government activities outside those that ensure "the safety of human life and protection of property."

8. No federal employee has ever been prosecuted for violating the Antideficiency Act. And, I'm not lawyer, but I think it reasonable to believe that a federal employee who allows the public access to NPS wilderness or outdoor areas would not be in violation of the Antideficiency Act.

The Antideficiency Act did force the NPS to close government buildings and all non essential activies such as interpretation, research, building projects, permit issuing and the like but the act did not force Superintendents to close access to all outdoor areas. (Agencies are allowed to staff to protect human life/safety and protect property so the concern of crime and public harm (in the short term) due to staffing levels is an overstated worry.) Nor was the agency forced to stop maintaining public restrooms, sewage treatment, or trash removal. (This falls under protection of property and also under human safety so these "activities" would be easy to justify.)

I propose that the DOI/NPS leadership should have allowed park Superintendents the discretion on how to conduct an "orderly shutdown" as instructed by the OMB and that each Superintendent should have closed roads, trails, and outdoor areas only "as necessary" instead of "wherever possible" as the NPS Shutdown Plan ordered.

Any additional insights into the actual, factual, legal limitations placed on NPS leadership by the OMB during this shutdown would be greatly appreciated.

andrea lankford


For agenices in the "discretionary budget," like the National Park Service, Congress must appropriate money for them to have legal authority to spend. There is general permission, by law, for these agencies to maintain "essential services," even without an appropriation.

For the National Park Service, the only truly essential services are protection of resources (the physical parks themselves) and people (visistors, volunteers, and staff). Lots of other programs and services are necessary to run parks properly and assure visitors can enjoy them to the fullest, but those are not "essential."

Therefore, wihtout a budget, NPS closes parks, including so-called "open-air" memorials like the World War II Memorial in DC. In normal times, these memorials have law enforcement patrols to limit crime, including vandalism; they have litter control and trash removal; they have information personnel who can explain the purpose of the site and how and why it was built.

When parks are closed, NPS can minimize its spending by sending all non-essential personnel home and keeping only the staffing required to provide minimum protection to park staff and those people who are permitted in the park.

Privately run facilities within parks, like the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Claud Moore Farm on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, are government property and can only be reached by crossing government property. Emergency services for these sites are provided by NPS. Having them operating does require more NPS staffing, even if the site itself is privately managed.

As a separate issue, demonstrations like today's event on the National Mall were authorized under negotiated permit agreements long before the actual event. When the permit was issued, NPS could not have known it would be closed today. Generally, these permits must be issued to individuals and organizations that are exercising their constitutional freedom of assembly to address Congress -- it's the same right that had the courts requiring NPS to provide larger and more visible demonstration spaces during Inaugural parades for newly installed Presidents of the US. Ther permittees are still required to provide portable restrooms, trash collection and other services related to their demonstrations.

A Fairfax County Park, Langley Fork, sits on the same parcel of federal land that Claude Moore does and it is also closed. In fact, Claude Moore is adjacent to this park. Fairfax Parks and Recreation put a note on their website indicating that Langley Fork and its parking were closed as the NPS Special Use Permit was suspended. Langley Fork, unlike Claude Moore, is accessible from the Georgetown Pike(a VDOT road). The County doesn't seem to be protesting this closure.