ALERT: The National Parks Are Closed

For those of you who are looking for reasonable answers to some very straightforward questions click here. And while you are at it, here is a thoughtful post about how we should think about federal employees. It turns out they really aren’t the enemy.

National Park ServiceThere appears to be no let up in the wild reports of abuse of innocent Americans who want nothing more than to enjoy our beautiful National Parks. A report which appeared in a Newburyport newspaper takes the cake. A group of senior citizens found themselves in Yellowstone National Park on October 1 and according to Pat Vaillancourt, at one point, under “armed guard.” You can read more of the story. Vaillancourt’s account of the group’s ordeal .

“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” said Vaillancourt, who grew up in Lawrence. “It was like they brought out the armed forces. Nobody was saying, ‘we’re sorry,’ it was all like — ” as she clenched her fist and banged it against her forearm.

The bus stopped along a road when a large herd of bison passed nearby, and seniors filed out to take photos. Almost immediately, an armed ranger came by and ordered them to get back in, saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The tour guide, who had paid a $300 fee the day before to bring the group into the park, argued that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos. “She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.

And finally.

“They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed. They told us you can’t go outside,” she said. “Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”

First, what was this tour doing in Yellowstone to begin with on October 1? It’s not like the federal shutdown happened without any warning. It was widely reported that in the event of a shutdown the National Parks would be closed. Why is no one inquiring into the organization and management of this tour?

It is unfortunate that tourists are being inconvenienced and in a number of cases made to feel uncomfortable, but no one seems to understand what closed means. How about looking at this from the perspective of the few NPS employees who have been left to manage very large sites such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Consider all of the potential problems apart from those caused by stranded visitors and those who have taken it upon themselves to cross barricades. They have been placed in a very difficult position so if you happen to find yourself on federal property that has been closed don’t expect to receive the same warm welcome as if it is business as usual. CLOSED MEANS CLOSED.

The Magic of Social Media

facebook-iconJust wanted to take a second to thank all of you who shared yesterday’s post through social media, specifically on your Facebook pages. My decision to share an anonymous NPS employee’s response to some of the most irresponsible accusations re: park closings clearly resonated with many people. I can state unequivocally that yesterday’s post is now the most popular entry ever posted on this blog, which has been running for close to eight years.

Popularity can be measured in any number of ways. Some look for comments, which I think is a big mistake. Yes, it looks good to new readers to know that others are taking an interest, but most comments are written by the same small group of people. If it’s a controversial post than those threads tend to go on for a bit longer, but they still revolve around the same core group.  Continue reading “The Magic of Social Media”

I Stand With the National Park Service

National Park ServiceI have a number of friends who work for the National Park Service. They protect this nation’s most important cultural, environmental, and historical treasures. As a group they are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable public servants that you will find and they are worth every cent of our tax dollars. I am absolutely disgusted at the unwarranted accusations being hurled in their direction during this federal shutdown. Here is one lone voice in response to some of the nonsense that is being spread about the closure of NPS sites across the country.

No one misses the parks more than those who work in them, Kevin. When we were furloughed, a part of the shutdown included closure of park buildings, parks roads and avenues, and memorials for security reasons for protection of the resource itself and visitors. I’ve seen posts and caught some of the “the parks are owned by the American public and we’re taking them back” crowd but as yet have not seen a line of these same persons volunteering to clean the toilets, patrol the roads, provide assistance at information stations or in back country park areas, or sweep the floors after a thousand or more visitors have tramped through leaving behind candy wrappers, et al. FOX news reported that NPS rangers were told to make the closure “as painful as possible”, which is total nonsense. Tea Party reps like Michele Bachman and Randy Neugebauer have used the closure of the WW2 Memorial to grandstand for themselves and gone as far as to dress down an NPS employee simply doing her job – unpaid at the moment- by controlling access to a closed site. Rand Paul has referred to Park Police as “goons” sent to close the memorials from the American public. Continue reading “I Stand With the National Park Service”

Now You Know What a Federal Government Shutdown Means

Update: There are a number of reports that the Obama administration is playing politics with the NPS closures by pushing administrators to make it as difficult as possible for the general public to access certain sites. This piece by The Washington Times is typical. One unknown source is cited, but that’s about it. This interview with Jon Jarvis, director of the NPS is very clear about why these drastic steps are necessary.

There are employees that pick up the trash. There are employees that clean the restrooms. There’s employees that provide protection against vandalism. Some of these sites are potential targets for vandalism or terrorism. And so, I’ve had to furlough most of those employees. I furloughed, as a result of no appropriation, 21,000 employees of the National Park Service. And so we are down to just a – essentially a skeleton crew of enforcement officers that provide just the very basics of security. I can’t leave them open and accept that kind of impact. That’s – that violates my responsibilities to the American people as the steward of these places.

Like many of you, my blood pressure went through the roof after watching this video. At first I was convinced that it was a piece from The Onion. I viewed it twice all the while trying to comprehend how Texas Republican Congressman, Randy Neugebauer, could justify berating a National Park Service employee for having to manage a very difficult situation that his own party created. Is it possible that this jackass didn’t understand that the  shutdown of the federal government includes the NPS?

I have nothing but the utmost respect for the work that the National Park Service does across this country and it breaks my heart that they (along with many others) have to suffer for absolutely no reason. Thanks to this dedicated NPS employee for standing her ground in the face of this silly man.

The Face of Public History (Part 2)

Chickamauga Visitor Center

This past week I was reminded of just how upsetting it can be for African American to have to confront the Confederate flag when visiting a Civil War site. I don’t care how many H.K. Edgertons and Karen Coopers you embrace, in the end, many blacks feel alienated and/or unwelcome when visiting these sites. There should be no doubt about why this is the case given the history of the Confederate flag. Continue reading “The Face of Public History (Part 2)”