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 snopes.com 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.