Former Park Service Chief Says Keeping National Parks Open During the Shutdown Is a Tragic Mistake
When I was a ranger at Crater Lake national park in the 1980s, the average snowfall at headquarters was 500 inches a year, and snow could accumulate at 2 inches an hour. One of my jobs as ranger was to shovel out the fire hydrants every day, so that if there was a fire in the hotel, headquarters or housing, we’d be able to fight it. Our maintenance staff plowed roads for safe visitor access and rangers patrolled on skis, regularly performing rescues. This was all part of ensuring that, in accordance with the National Park Service’s founding charter, the parks are “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Leaving the parks open without these essential staff is equivalent to leaving the Smithsonian museums open without any staff to protect the priceless artifacts. Yet as a result of the government shutdown, which furloughed most park staff, this is what has happened. It is a violation of the stewardship mandate, motivated only by politics. While the majority of the public will be respectful, there will always be a few who take advantage of the opportunity to do lasting damage.
In 2016, the NPS hosted 320 million visitors: more than all of the Disney parks, major league baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and Nascar combined. Many of our national parks operate much like a small city, with the National Park Service employees providing all the same services: trash collection, police and fire response, water and sewer systems, electrical power, bus service, and parking management. The national parks differ from a city in that they are also designed to protect some of the United States’ most precious resources, such as the Merced River of Yosemite Valley, the elk and bison of Yellowstone, and the iconic Lincoln Memorial.
When Congress and the executive branches of government failed to appropriate funding in 1998 and 2013, the government shut down for extended periods and the national parks were closed to the public. The logic was that if the employees were furloughed and could not perform their stewardship and safety responsibilities, then the only way to meet the requirements of “unimpaired” was to close the parks.
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