Until now, National Park Service staffers had one of the more uplifting duties in the federal government. They introduce visitors to the spectacle of the Grand Canyon, the solemnity of the Gettysburg battlefield, the awesomeness of Mount Rushmore.
The men and women of the Park Service oversee sites ranging from the Lincoln Memorial to gloriously scenic wilderness areas. The service’s historians help tell the story of the nation in its fullness and complexity.
Yet look at the position they’ve been put in by irresponsible directives from Washington.
With decisions by the Obama administration, Park Service personnel are now the bad guys, ordered to deny the public access to sites that common sense dictates should have remained accessible regardless of the partial federal shutdown. One prime example is the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
It’s preposterous that the World War II Memorial, as well as showcase sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, were closed to the public because of a Congress that can’t act responsibly and an administration that goes out of its way to maximize frustrations for average Americans.
It’s preposterous, too, that state governments are having to use their own funds to reopen some sites.
New York state is paying $61,600 a day from its tourism budget to open the Statue of Liberty. South Dakota and several corporate donors worked out a deal to reopen Mount Rushmore, while Arizona agreed to pay the Park Service to keep the Grand Canyon open for seven days.
That’s quite a commentary on both the dysfunction in Washington and the way states generally are far more prudent than the federal government when it comes to handling money.
The public deserves to know who in the Obama administration imposed the nonsensical rules that imposed these roadblocks and needlessly turned the Park Service from a help to a hindrance.
If a site involves considerable staffing, then it probably would have to close when funding is temporarily cut off. But certainly not the World War II Memorial. It’s a street-level plaza where barricades never made an appearance until now.
Not Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, which the Park Service mistakenly tried to close before reversing course after learning that it’s owned by a nonprofit organization.
And not the Skyline Drive, a scenic highway in Virginia, which the feds needlessly closed, preventing visitors from enjoying some of the grandest views in the Southern Appalachians.
Gale Norton, who was secretary of the Interior under President George W. Bush, rightly labeled such antics as “political grandstanding.” She also notes that this is not the first time the National Park Service has been used as a tool during budget battles over the decades.
In the days since the partial federal shutdown began, we wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere out in America — at a fishing spot perhaps, or at an overlook, or along a scenic area — some weary man or woman in a Park Service uniform has said, “Oh, what the heck,” and waved in a family so they could enjoy the site.
What an act of common sense that would be. And what a contrast to the failure of leadership and judgment we’re now seeing from our elected leaders in Washington.