Deal Or No Deal, Closing National Parks Has Been A Disgrace

First of all, the government’s decision to lock the gates to national parks during the federal shutdown is not nearly as contemptible as depriving families of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan money to help with funeral expenses, or barring cancer patients from federally sponsored medical trials, or putting U.S. food inspectors on furlough just before a nasty salmonella outbreak, but still, it rankles — particularly if you’re one of the sorry sods who had waited a lifetime to visit Yellowstone, Yosemite or the Statue of Liberty.

Even though a deal to end the stalemate may be in the works, it’s also more than annoying if, like my son, Tom, you’re on a 1,500-mile bicycle trip through several Western states and had planned to pitch a tent much of the way at national park campgrounds.

He called the other night from Seattle, a little frustrated but still spirited, more than 1,000 miles into a journey that began in Utah. The shutdown has forced him to make some detours to state and private camping areas — no big deal if you’re in a Winnebago, but a royal pain if you have to pedal extra miles during a rainstorm over unfamiliar turf.

Anyway, he’ll survive, as will the tourists temporarily shut out from seeing Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon.

But it seems that long before today’s (Thursday’s) announcement of a possible breaktrhough in stalled budget talks elected officials have been going out of their way to make themselves even more repellent, if that’s possible, by targeting popular attractions. I still find it depressingly surprising that there’s been such comparatively little outrage.

The Onion website offered the most salient tongue-in-cheek analysis: “American public takes to streets and overthrows existing government following two unbearable weeks without access to the National Gallery of Art,” and suggested the stalemate would end only after “Boehner’s doe-eyed niece plaintively asks why she can’t go to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and see the bears.”

The Onion also reported, “Washington’s congressional aides have opted to withhold sex from their employers until a budget compromise is reached.”

There have been various published reports about the effect of the shutdown on parks, some apparently accurate, others laughably fanciful, illustrating both the small-minded idiocy of government bureaucrats and the unflagging gullibility of the American public.

It took the myth-busting to debunk the most ridiculously Photoshopped image of helicopters hovering with a giant sheet in front of Mount Rushmore to block the view.

But as CNN and other news outlets reported, authorities did temporarily place highway cones at a viewing area near the South Dakota landmark, which some people thought were intended to block motorists but others insisted were merely meant as traffic guides.

The Arizona Republic also reported that rangers have written about two dozen citations for people trying to sneak into Grand Canyon National Park.

In addition, The Eagle-Tribune newspaper in North Andover, Mass., quoted one tourist who said National Park Service Guards held her tour group under armed guard in a Yellowstone National Park hotel, and even tried to prevent travelers from taking pictures of grazing bison. A park spokesman denied the accusation.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the mess in Washington, and after the dust settles I only hope the strategy of antagonizing the public by holding parks as a hostage doesn’t backfire and discourage support for protecting treasured natural areas.

Reader Comments


The Continental Divide Trail: 'Overall It's Amazing, But You Have To Be OK With Getting Lost'

After tramping more than a month some 700 miles along the fabled Continental Divide Trail, Mystic native Hilary Sueoka and her boyfriend, Dan Stedman, who started hiking April 22 at the U.S.-Mexican border, finally rambled from the...

The Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon: Racing Is The Easy Part.

By the time Phil Warner and I hit the water in his lightning-fast tandem kayak last Sunday for our team’s leg in the Josh Billings Runaground Triathlon in Lenox, Mass., we had already spent a good part of the morning lugging gear...

There’s No Accounting For Taste When It Comes To Favorite Mountains, Or Tacos

En route to a hiking expedition in Nepal’s Himalayas a number of years ago, my wife and I took a detour to India and spent a day bouncing along on a bus from New Delhi to Agra to tour the Taj Mahal.

Mount McKinley Renamed Denali: Better Than Mount Reagan

Three cheers for the Obama Administration’s decision this week to officially restore the name of North America’s tallest mountain to Denali, which is what early inhabitants called the 20,310-foot peak in the Alaska Range.

The Endless Summer: Too Much Of A Good Thing?

Remember when you were a kid how your mom wouldn’t let you have ice cream every day even though nothing in the world tasted better on a hot day than a double scoop of butter crunch?

My Favorite Kayak Race: The T.I.A.G.A.T.I.N.M.R. In Rangeley, Maine

Paddling like the dickens last Sunday on Maine’s Rangeley Lake, we competitors had two choices: steer clockwise or counter-clockwise around Maneskootuk Island.

Selden Island: Once A Bustling Quarry, Now A Quiet Haven

More than 40 years ago, Dave Wordell of Salem took his then-10-year-old son, Dave Junior, on a boat ride up Selden Creek, a narrow, secluded tributary of the Connecticut River in Lyme.

Life As A Lumbersexual

I can never remember – do you apply facial cleanser before or after the exfoliating scrub, and then finish up with healing balm and moisturizer, or should you start with the scrub, work your way through the cleanser and then top...

R.I.P. Cecil the Lion: Let's Make the Trophy Hunter an Endangered Species

The international outrage sparked by an American trophy hunter’s killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe’s beloved lion, justifiably vilifies the despicable practice of slaughtering wildlife for sport – but it also exposes the human...

All Who Wander Are Not Lost: Searching For The Elusive South Bog Stream In Rangeley, Maine

"Head for that tree stump," I instructed authoritatively one afternoon earlier this week, as if I knew for sure where we should be heading. I have learned to exude confidence when giving directions on any expedition, even...

Scott Jurek's 'Reward' For Breaking Appalachian Trail Speed Record: Three Summonses

When internationally celebrated speedster Scott Jurek scrambled last Sunday to the 5,269-foot summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, he broke the record for the fastest assisted hike of the 2,189-mile...

No Swimming at Seaside: What’s Next? No Hiking at Bluff Point?

Most of the time I’m reasonably scrupulous about abiding by government regulations.