Two small parks and an inn win victories over National Park Service closings
posted at 8:01 pm on October 11, 2013 by Mary Katharine Ham
Call it the shutdown of shutdown theater. A couple of small parks have taken to the courts to dispute their bullying at the hands of the National Park Service during the government shutdown. One could argue civil disobedience has been shutting down shutdown theater since it began— in D.C., in the Badlands, in Yellowstone—but at least one of these victories might be able to set a useful legal precedent to prevent at least some of Washington Monument Strategy in the future. It’s a political strategy that should die an ignominious death. It’s the opposite of public service.
In Northern Virginia, McLean Youth Lacrosse won its fields back from the feds after the National Park Service shut down a park that sits on federal land but its administered by county government. That’s the entity the lacrosse league paid $5,000 to use the park, not the National Park Service. (Parenthetically, I’m not surprised it was the lacrosse parents of McLean that went to court on this. They have the right attitude and means to make it happen, and I hope their victory can help other youth hurt by the federal government who might not have the means to sue.)
A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the National Park Service to immediately reopen Langley Fork Park in McLean — which was closed Oct. 1 — and allow the boys and girls of the McLean Youth Lacrosse organization back onto the fields.
The judge’s order was not final. Attorneys are scheduled to return to federal court in Alexandria on Oct. 18 — provided the courthouse is still open and judges are still hearing civil cases — to hash out a more permanent resolution. But until then, Langley Fork Park will be open for the hundreds of kids in the youth lacrosse group, which sued the Park Service, and for anyone else who might want to use it.
“It’s a major relief,” said David “Bucky” Morris, McLean Youth Lacrosse’s executive director. “I’m not sure how long it goes for, but, hopefully, it’s long enough that it goes through the government shutdown.”
A spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Park Authority, which manages the park, said officials removed the temporary barriers at the park Thursday morning after receiving the Park Service’s permission.
“I can tell you this much: We’re glad it’s open for business. That’s the good news,” said Judy Pedersen, a spokeswoman for the Park Authority. She declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The Claude Moore Colonial Farm may have won its battle with just a legal threat, it seems. The NPS reversed course today on its order the small farm close during shutdown, even though it takes no federal funding and requires no federal employees. The feds sent law enforcement to close it down last week, but today:
“We have good news for you at last!” Eberly says. “The NPS has reversed their decision to close the Farm and we will be open [Wednesday] as usual. You can now visit the 18th century Farm, come to the Book Shop tomorrow afternoon, participate in Farm Skills on Thursday and have picnics at The Pavilions again. And all of our volunteers are welcome to come back ‘home’.”
The Claude Moore Colonial Farm exists on federal land but has not received any federal funding for more than 30 years. It funds itself on its own activities. Octobers is its busiest month of the year, but the shutdown has rendered it closed for more than a week. The farm was open during all previous shutdowns, and needs no federal employees for staffing or any other service. It even depends on local police for security.
“Just this morning we received the final absolute NO from the Dept. of Interior and were told the Farm would not open until the shutdown ended. An hour later the Park Police showed up and closed and barricaded the office gates with us inside. This has been a very rough week and we are profoundly grateful that this is ending.”
In intervening time, Eberly had openly pursued her legal options, believing her lease with the Dept. of Interior allowed her to stay open. The Washington Post notes the McLean Lacrosse victory might inspire other legal battles. Good, I hope both these stories do.
In North Carolina, the owner of a private inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway seems to have won his stand-off with the park police. First he remained open in an act of civil disobedience, which was quickly ended. After that, he gathered local support and was also vocal about pursuing legal action. Now, look what’s open again, though it lost five days of revenue at peak leaf-viewing season:
The owner of a privately run inn along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is back in business five days after the federal government forced him to close as a byproduct of the D.C. slimdown.
Bruce O’Connell, owner of the Pisgah Inn, told FoxNews.com on Tuesday he was “hopeful” that his business would reopen — and by Wednesday, it had.
A posting on the company’s Facebook page said the inn was reopening at 5 p.m. Suggesting an agreement was reached with the feds, the post thanked the National Park Service “for working with us through all of this mess.” An employee also confirmed to FoxNews.com that the inn was re-opening.
O’Connell was among a growing group of business owners who argued that the federal government was needlessly choking off their ability to earn a living, and were fighting back. O’Connell had been vocal about looking into his legal options following the forced closing.
In Utah and Colorado, the state is taking over federal park administration. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker openly defied the feds’ calls to shutter state parks with federal funding.
Good for all of them. One wonders if it might occur to them that they should retain control after shutdown theater is over, thus ensuring that the political whims of an executive atop a dysfunctional central government sing the National Park Service to inflict pain on the public cannot do this to them again.
That’s Paul Kengor’s thought. Privatize the National Park Service, but not the parks:
This is Obama’s shutdown campaign, pure and simple — akin to the kind of crass political campaigns the American far left has engaged in for decades. This time, sadly, federal employees have been conscripted in the cause; the National Park Service is serving as an army of agents in the campaign. Not unlike the IRS, NPS agents are abusing their powers. They are being tasked as a political/ideological arm of the state. This is precisely not what civil servants are to be.
I’m not talking about privatizing the parks themselves, a suggestion others have raised. In the 1990s, I specialized in privatization, writing reports for state and local think-tanks, particularly the excellent Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. I quickly learned one of the most crucial things about privatization that most people don’t understand: privatization frequently involves not ownership but operation. It’s often wiser to privatize not ownership but operation. (Roads are an example. Let the government own the roads, but their maintenance should be contracted.) That’s particularly true when government employees operating a service became unionized, entrenched, bloated, and over-extended. And that’s precisely what we should now consider with the National Park Service. We should privatize not the parks but the service that operates, manages, administers them…
This recommendation will anger NPS employees. Well, for that, they can thank White House schemers for overplaying their heavy hand and unwittingly shedding ominous light on the abusive possibilities of this agency. That’s not a sentiment that the president and allies intended to foster when they began agitating and orchestrating their shutdown campaign. Rather than convincing us of the alleged evils of congressional Republicans, they’ve unveiled the roguish tendencies of some federal employees who blindly follow orders. Let’s respond by taking power away from those employees, so this cannot happen again. Easily maneuvered into providing propaganda for a president or party, these NPS workers have proven themselves unworthy of the mission entrusted to them. They are the embodiment of the dangers of unaccountable, big government.
There should be hell to pay for what the National Park Service has done to citizens, on purpose, to make them hurt. Unfortunately, I have a feeling it will only come in the form of fewer kids with dreams to be park rangers. “Yes, Mommy, I would like to set up barricades in front of our nation’s most prized natural and civic treasures to serve the political needs of whoever happens to be my boss. I want to be on the front lines when someone needs someone to screw over our own citizenry. Sign me up!”