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Coalition Of National Park Service Retirees Worried About Pressure On National Park Service


Bowing to political pressures, the National Park Service has allowed the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to reopen for business with help from the state of Arizona, while the Old Faithful Inn and the rest of Yellowstone National Park remains closed. Top photo by David and Kay Scott, bottom photo via Xanterra Parks & Resorts.

National Park Service officials have found themselves turned into political pawns, first as the administration's face of the government shutdown and now by being splintered through a handful of park openings.

The political standoff in Congress has greatly raised the profile of the agency, but not as "America's best idea." Rather, as administration foes would have it, as an overzealous agency determined to inflict as much public inconvenience as possible.

The shutdown of the National Park System has spurred "occupy" movements by some business owners angered by the lack of park visitors to cater to, "civil disobedience" stands in a bid to "take back our parks," and at least one criminal action in the form of an artifact hunter taking to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park with a metal detector.

The economic pain of missing tourists during the height of the fall tourism season prompted officials in Utah, Arizona, Colorado and some other states to work out agreements with the Interior Department to, essentially, loan the department enough money to reopen Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, and Zion national parks.

Not interested in "bailing out" the federal government was Wyoming, while officials in Washington, Montana and California also declined the opportunity to loan the government money to open more parks.

Park Service officials, meanwhile, also relented and let the concessionaires who run the Pisgah Inn and Peaks of Otter Lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway reopen those lodges for business.

This splintered approach to opening parks and inns has created a new tapestry of the National Park System, one that is not in the best interests of the Park Service, according to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.

"The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees has consistently advocated that Congress pass a budget, open the entire federal government including ALL of America's 401 national park areas. We sympathize with the National Park Service as they have faced unrelenting political pressure to accept state funding to open just a scant few national park units through special agreements with some states," Joan Anzelmo, a former park superintendent and now with the Coalition, said Sunday. "In its own sad way, the degree of pressures that have been applied speak to the extraordinary places that America's national parks are and the huge economic generators they are for their respective communities and states.

"However the same partisan politics that caused this very unnecessary shutdown are also some of the same tactics used to force the agency to open a few parks," she added in an email. "We think this will further divide the country and separate 'the haves' from the 'have not states.' The irresponsibility of Congress in not passing a budget is increasingly pitting Americans against Americans."

The antipathy towards the Obama administration has provided much fodder for right-wing columnists and bloggers, who rallied particularly under an anonymous quote from a Park Service ranger who purportedly claimed, "We've been told to make life as difficult for people as we can."

The use of anonymous sources poses a slippery slope, as the New York Times' Public Editor noted Sunday. On one hand, if that ranger's quote had a name attached to it, there very likely would be ramifications for him or her. But anonymity can lead to questions to the veracity of the quote, too. Was that really the message from Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, or possibly only the thoughts from a disgruntled Park Service employee?

In the end, the pressure on the Park Service from Congress, states, and partisan bystanders is enormous.

"We particularly deplore the way some in Congress, some in the states and some in various political groups have intentionally put National Park Service employees in the crosshairs of sensationalized coverage, often ignoring the real facts to score partisan political points," said Ms. Anzelmo.

"Park rangers, long a revered symbol of America, who spend their days helping park visitors, including at times putting their lives on the line to save others, are being grossly used by partisans to fuel hateful sentiments," she added. "It is unprecedented in the history of the agency now approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. It is also dangerous for the employees who remain on duty.

"Our greatest hope is that all National Park Service employees remain safe throughout the entire National Park System. Further, we continue to urge Congress to pass the budget now."

You can follow the Coalition on Facebook, on their home page, and via twitter, @NPSRetirees.

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The story states: The political standoff in Congress has greatly raised the profile of the agency, but not as "America's best idea."

A correction: Ken Burns's series, titled America's Best Idea was about the PARKS, not the agency who manages them. The original quote "Americas Best Idea" was also focused upon the PARKS, not the agency who manages them.

The NPS is not a benevolent aunt who watches out for us, it is a Federal agency with a set of policies and directives that do not always serve the public interest. The NPS has received lots of attention during this period and some of it has been undeserved. But not all of it...

Very much agree with MikeG on his opening lines. I think too many people are confusing "America's Best Idea", a Ken Burns special about the idea of National PARKs, with the agency charged with running them.

I have NOTHING but respect for the NPS employees and in the future intend to spend my "semi-retirement" days volunteering for that system. That said, I think the agency needs to remember the word SERVICE in their title.

I think National Park Service Director, Jon Jarvis, needs to immediately put out a common sense policy talking about HOW they will implement a shut down that is consistent with "reality based" Americans.

Common Sense Americans understand the closing of museums, stores, and a fair amount (if not all) Ranger led programs. What most Americans don't understand is why they are being denied access to monuments they could enjoy at 3am on Sunday during a normal year.

I would argue that the NPS should IMPLEMENT policy to allow visitors to attend open air monuments, entry into National Parks (at own risk, and people FINED for rescue costs if needed), utilizaton of parking lots, and use of the road systems. Law enforcement Rangers should be present to protect and enforce the respect of our Park System NOT keep people out.

This kind of policy is CONSISTENT with the Spirit of the Law, the National Parks, and the National Park SERVICE.

In past shutdowns NPS actions focused upon the closure of parks with controlled access. These closures have always been highlighted in the media, largely because it brings pressure upon politicians. There have been complaints but nothing like what we've seen this time around.

This time, the NPS took specific actions to increase the level of pain and inconvenience to the public. The fact that they have backtracked on some of those actions has increased the view that it was political in the first place.

The National Mall hasn't been barricaded in the past. It was this time. After yesterdays protest when barricades were removed, the NPS is re-installing the same barricades.

It's a stupid action that will have long term costs to the NPS.

I think that no matter what the NPS had done with the National Mall, they would have received criticism. If the National Mall had remained completely open, the complaints about the lack of restrooms and overflowing trash cash(that the Wash Post reported on) would have been greater. I want to know have any of those Senators and Congressman grandstanding at the World War 2 Memorial picked up any trash?

The idea that the Memorial/Monument side of the National Mall has unrestricted access is also completely false. Since 9/11, that side of the Mall has been considered a terrorist target. As such, there are security restrictions on a number of occasions every year(e.g. Fourth of July). At such times, there are security checkpoints and limited entrances on to the Mall.

That heightened security even closed the Monuments down for 2 days in 2003 when a man drove his tractor into the Constitution Gardens pond and claimed to have a bomb.

The Lincoln Memorial was barricaded during at least part of the November 1995 shutdown, there are pictures. The Pageant of Peace on the Ellipse was surrounded by a chainlink fence when the December 1995 shutdown started.

Mike, I would suggest that closing Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, Great Smoky, Shenandoah, etc, are a much greater "pain and inconvenience" than the barricading of the memorials on the Mall. Just ask the families who set out on vacations, the visitors from Europe and Asia, the wedding planners, and the gateway communities.


Good to know.

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