When I visited the Shenandoah National Park on Monday, the rangers I encountered weren’t playing politics. At the entrance, a ranger told me that my $15 pass was good for the rest of the week. Only when I asked about the prospect of a shutdown did he say that the pass wouldn’t be good in that event, and that a shutdown seemed likely.
When I told another ranger which trail I would be hiking, and joked that if I wasn’t back by sundown she should send a search party, she didn’t take the bait by mentioning the looming shutdown.
Now, of course, the Park is closed; you can’t drive on the Skyline Drive that runs through it. But why?
Gale Norton, the Secretary of Interior under George W. Bush, tells Andrew Stiles of NRO that it’s part of the Park Services’ “long history of dramatizing budget issues by inconveniencing the public.” She recalls that during the 1980s, when she worked as a lawyer for the Park Service, it decided to close the Skyline Drive to make a “statement” during an appropriations battle:
This is basically just a road that people can drive along, where they don’t need supervision.
I can see why there are places that need to be closed — historic areas that need to be protected. But when you’re talking about open-air memorials, or scenic, natural areas – those types of areas can be open to the public without the need for much monitoring. They could make minor arrangements to allow them to stay open.
NPS has a choice to make between amplifying the political message, and making commonsense arrangements to avoid inconveniencing visitors. I don’t see many commonsense solutions.
Who is making these calls that put politics ahead of commonsense? Norton thinks it’s the politicians:
Given the fact that they have closed so much, and acted so broadly, I imagine that decision was made at the highest levels of park service leadership, in cooperation with department leadership and the White House.
I think so too. President Obama isn’t “spreading much wealth around,” but he’s doing his best to spread inconvenience.