, Newburyport, MA

October 3, 2013

Our view: This 'shutdown' is ridiculous

Newburyport Daily News

---- — Whether one agrees with the political motives behind the federal budget stand-off, the government “shutdown” is plainly ludicrous.

How else would one describe the shutdown-mandated closure of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island? Do people really require federal supervision to observe birds among the dunes and stroll along the beach?

Apparently so. Visitors to the refuge this week found the gates closed and locked. Clearly, the closure was not necessary to prevent people from creating havoc within the refuge — law enforcement patrols were still on duty.

Among those turned away from the refuge yesterday were students from the Newburyport-based River Valley Charter School. Some 15 middle school students were on a field trip to study erosion at Sandy Point, located at the southernmost tip of Plum Island.

To access Sandy Point, visitors must travel down a 6-mile road through the federal refuge. The refuge closure meant that access to the state park, which has about 50 parking spaces, was also closed.

Instead, the students headed north to the city-owned Plum Island Point and the lesson plan was adjusted, teacher Heather Reusse told The Daily News.

“It also turned into a bit of a civics lesson,” she said, as teachers tried to explain why the refuge was closed.

“There were a lot of questions about what a shutdown means,” she said.

Similar foolishness was on display throughout the nation as national parks and monuments were all closed. Thousands of people have been tossed out of our great outdoor spaces such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. Americans, apparently, cannot be trusted to look at turning leaves, mountain vistas or war memorials without the protective hand of Uncle Sam firmly on their shoulders. To whom, after all, do these natural and man-made wonders belong — the government or the people?

In Washington, some would have none of this nonsense. A group of veterans of the generation that stormed the beaches of Normandy was reduced to storming the gates of the monument erected in their honor.

The veterans, some in wheelchairs, had come from Mississippi to visit the World War II memorial. They arrived at the National Mall to barricades fitted with signs announcing that the memorial was closed due to the government shutdown. The Nazis couldn’t keep these men out of France. A few signs weren’t going to keep them from honoring their comrades in arms. They went in anyway.

The Park Police, to its credit, for the most part looked the other way.

“I’m not going to enforce the ‘no stopping or standing’ sign for a group of 90 World War II veterans,” a U.S. Park Police officer told the Washington Post. “I’m a veteran myself.”

Similarly, a group of Korean War veterans from Puerto Rico ignored barricades and laid a wreath at the memorial to their fellow soldiers.

Good for them. Why is federal oversight needed for a group of old veterans to visit some granite monuments set in a city park?

We understand, of course, that the federal government does a great many things that are necessary to the safety, security and welfare of the nation. But locking the gates of a wildlife sanctuary is not among them. Americans might be somewhat more sympathetic and less cynical toward government if its operatives did not so consistently treat the people like idiots. It is insulting.