, Newburyport, MA

October 14, 2013

A travesty in our national parks

Newburyport Daily News

---- — “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

That is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, the great American president who gave us what some consider to be “America’s Best Idea” — the National Park System.

One can only imagine what Roosevelt, a famously no-nonsense political leader, would think of today’s government shutdown and the travesty it has created for our national parks and wildlife areas. We have reached a very sad state of affairs, indeed, in our country when public servants are tossing citizens off our nation’s public lands — land that was meant to be enjoyed by all.

Our national park system is one of our proudest and noblest endeavors. For over 100 years it has preserved and safeguarded our most beautiful landscapes and most treasured historic sites, with the single intent of sharing them with the people of our nation and the world. Millions of people have received excellent and friendly service from park personnel, and have come away with wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.

The National Park Service’s mission has been destroyed and its reputation demonized by the callous politics of the shutdown of the federal government. What an evil thing it is, to do so much damage to an institution that is cherished by people worldwide.

It is a measure of the contempt in which political leaders hold the public, an attitude that turns the concept of “public service” on its ear. Those who would behave in such a manner do not see themselves as public servants at all but rather as overlords of a land they do not own.

Salisbury resident Pat Vaillancourt was unwilling to accept her treatment meekly. The senior citizen told The Daily News of her outrage at the treatment of her group at Yellowstone National Park. Vaillancourt was on a nine-day tour of Western parks and sites, along with about four dozen senior citizen tourists. The group arrived at Yellowstone just as the shutdown went into effect. Armed rangers ordered the tour group to stop photographing wildlife and herded them into a hotel, where they remained under guard to prevent them from “recreating.” Barricades kept them from viewing the park’s scenic sites, such as Old Faithful geyser. Some of the foreign nationals on the tour feared they were under arrest.

“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” Vaillancourt told The Daily News. “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.

Tour guide Gordon Hodgson decried the park service’s “Gestapo tactics.”

“The national parks belong to the people,” he told the Livingston Enterprise newspaper. “This isn’t right.”

Similar tactics have been on display across the country. Rangers have barricaded roads and blocked access to the Gettysburg National Military Park, a collection of open-air monuments along largely public roads on the Civil War battlefield. They have blocked highway pullovers that allow views of Mount Rushmore and they have barred veterans from visiting open-air war memorials on the National Mall. Yet the Mall was opened for a rally in support of immigration reform, a cause dear to the Obama administration.

In Newbury, the gates to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge have been locked, keeping visitors from walking along the beach without federal supervision. Visitors to the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire are still allowed to look at the turning leaves. But 22 privately run campgrounds on federal land have been ordered closed by the Forest Service.

Our leaders have made it clear that Americans must be made to pay for their own inability to lead our nation, and great institutions such as our national parks must sacrifice their good reputations.

We could use a few Teddy Roosevelts right now to “carry a big stick” and use it to restore a functional and respectable government.