Shutdown Showdown and the Battle over National Parks, Week Two

Today, we enter Week Three of the shutdown and are now only two days away from the debt ceiling debacle. I am not touching that madness. Instead, I want to recap the past week.

Week Two started with much vitriol towards the NPS and its employees. Online bullies compared NPS rangers to the SS in Nazi Germany, calling them “armed thugs” for keeping people out of parks. If you do not believe that people can be that mean or ignorant, then check out the NPS Facebook page.

Then the conversation turned desperate as the ripple effect hit local businesses near national parks, and it hit them HARD. An inn keeper along the Blue Ridge Parkway tried to keep his business open after park rangers told him he had to close. He took his complaints to the media and his issue went up the chain. The NPS allowed him to resume business. San Juan County, the fifth county in Utah to declare a state of emergency because of park closures, threatened to take over Natural Bridges National Monument. The NPR article did not include how these people would protect the resources or if they knew what resources needed protection.

Finally, some reason seemed to set in late last week. Secretary of Interior Jewell said she was willing to hear state proposals to fund certain park units. Utah Governor Gary Herbert (Republican) reached a deal with the Department of Interior to send $1.7 million to keep Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef national parks and Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon, and Cedar Breaks national monuments open for ten days. The state of New York is also paying $61,000 a day to keep the Statue of Liberty open, but only for a few days. Reports say that other states are considering following suit.

This haphazard reopening is concerning in several respects. The NPS system cover 401 units that showcase a diverse range of natural systems and episodes of American history. In theory, the NPS designation is democratic. One park is not supposed to be more valuable than another. However, with uneven openings, it says to the public that we value certain kinds of parks more than others. The parks that reopened in Utah are overwhelmingly “natural” parks. The State of Liberty reopened in New York CIty, but the African American Burial Ground remains closed. Further, I think it is confusing to the public to say this site is open, but another one nearby is closed. Or this part of the park is open, but not this part. Or the park is only open for a few days this week. Further, I am sure this haphazard reopening is not helping the morale of furloughed employees whose sites remain closed while others open.

The National Mall is still hotly contested ground. A South Carolina man made headlines last week for mowing the grass. Another man set him self on fire and later died. On Sunday, veterans and veteran advocates demonstrated at the National Mall and World War II Memorial and breached barricades. According to NPR, organizers were protesting the Obama administration’s decision to close the memorial and bar veterans from the memorial. Protestors are supposed to return again today. The same report says that some park rangers have allowed veterans onto the site despite the closure. The George Wright Society tweeted a link to an article saying that two House Committees will convene next week to determine if the Obama administration has used closure of national parks to make the shutdown “seem as unpleasant as possible.” The article also quoted the spokeswoman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Janet Anzelmo, saying it was “rather unfair for everyone to be an armchair specialist on the working of the National Park Service.”

In the meantime, the threat to national resources is very real. A man was arrested at Kennesaw Mountain National Military Park for illegally digging for artifacts. He reportedly removed Civil War era objects. The park cannot fully determine the impact of the looting since the park’s archaeologist has been furloughed.

I spent the shutdown last week reading microfilm at Thurmont Public Library.  I had to take dramamine because microfilm machines make me motion sick. I read the local newspaper from 1930 to 1942. It was a Republican-leaning newspaper and Thurmont surprising remained Republican throughout most of the Great Depression. The surrounding county grew steadily Democrat. The newspaper helped me learn about New Deal relief efforts in the county, including nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camps. The Catoctin project was a huge project for local men and probably took many laborers off of farms that were cutting back. By the time World War II began, a farm labor shortage was becoming a serious crisis. I also got the sense that families that lived on Catoctin Mountain were treated differently. Some mountaineers were blamed for a forest fire that occurred on project lands, but the paper presented little evidence and no sign of a conviction. Also, the newspaper reported that the Resettlement Administration would help families find better farms, but little indication if that actually happened. This is when Resettlement Administration documents would be very helpful, but those would be at the National Archives, which is closed.

Apparently, Congressional talks are progressing. Let’s hope that a decision is made soon.

Links from the week:

NPR reports Utah county’s planned takeover of Natural Bridges

CNN reports State of Liberty to reopen

NPR reports veterans’ march on National Mall

Washington Post reports on looting at Kennesaw Mountain

Public historians are discussing the shutdown. Former NPS-employee Heather Huyck argues that NPS employees are “locked out not shutdown.” Will Walker opens the discussion about the ripple effects and how the shutdown has impacted public history teaching and training.

Ranger Cathy Bell writes about the view from behind the locked gate.

The Atlantic posts a nice article explaining difference between 1995 shutdown and this year’s.

Did I miss anything from last week that you think is important? Feel free to post comments below.

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6 Responses to Shutdown Showdown and the Battle over National Parks, Week Two

  1. preservationallliancewv says:

    Nice article!

  2. Bert Davis says:

    Nice job Angie…..keep doing what you are doing.

  3. joe says:

    I too work for the NPS. Consider this; the president, senate and congress need to STOP adding additional parks, preserves, trails, monuments, historical sites, etc. to burden down what they already cannot sustain. The NPS is a typical government abomination. The NPS cannot maintain the 401 properties they now have, therefore they will NEVER be able to sustain more. Over the years the NPS has allowed valuable historic properties to enter into disaray, to the point of being un-repairable. Only one example of which is Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia. The most recent change in policy is Asset Priority Index (API). The results of which under the new direction from Washington is to let many things go by the wayside. Over the years the NPS has allowed severe deterioration of valuable assets to become junk. The NPS cannot sustain its own mandated sustainability. Even before the budget issues, sequestration, stimulus, etc., the NPS was a TRAIN WRECK with the engineers running it from Washington. Due to all the cuts, over the past 18 months the NPS has gotten ride of the people on the ground who are critical to do the work and kept the TOP HEAVY management that do little more tan count beans .The reality is that the NPS needs to clean up its act. I could go on and on about what i have seen, but i will leave it here.

    • asirna87 says:

      Thanks for comment, Joe. I feel your frustration. I agree that the NPS is not sustainable with its current budget and it is fiscally irresponsible to keep adding units. My greater concern is all the talented, passionate people that are, for the most park, pushed out of the service for one reason or another. Despite my criticism, I still believe very firmly in the agency’s mission, and I believe they handled the shutdown as best as they could. I watched the Congressional Oversight Hearing for three hours yesterday and was appalled at the hideous comments hurled at Director Jarvis.

  4. joe says:

    My compliments on your coverage. Your coverage is good. I do agree that there are some fine people, who for the most part go unrecognized. We have lost a lot of good people over the past 18 months. I am hopeful, but hesitant, though my previous comment does not reflect it. Director Jarvis is a good man and has to play the political correctness game and under the circumstances is doing what he can. Me, I would not last long in his world, because one cannot be frank with their comments. While overall the NPS has been rewarding for me, I have ticked a superintendent off once in a while. Many, not all, of the superintendents are subjective and therefore do not really apply the agency mission properly. Over the years the results of my bluntness may have hurt my career advancement. My only egotistical reward is that no body ownes me. Thank you for all your efforts. Keep up the good work.

    • asirna87 says:

      Thanks Joe. I appreciate you taking the time to read these posts.I agree that there are good supers and bad ones. I personally hit a wall when I worked as a seasonal, or maybe it was the ceiling. I had to move on and do something different. I am really enjoying my consulting role now, because I can still work with the resources I love, but feel I can do so on my own terms. Like you said, no one owns me. Except maybe my university 🙂

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