Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Shutdown reaction in parks is ridiculous

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Oct. 17, 2013 at 5:17 a.m.

As of late Wednesday night, the government shutdown is over. That means hundreds of thousands of government employees can go back to work, and our national parks and monuments are once again open for visitors.

The closing of the national parks and monuments has caused outrage across the nation. World War II veterans have pushed aside the barricades at the national memorial in Washington D.C. multiple times over the past 16 days, and concerning stories have been reported from national parks across the nation. The Crossroads even saw our own bit of shutdown controversy at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

On the afternoon of Oct. 7, Peter and Lyn Bennett, of Rockport, took their bicycles on their usual ride along the 16-mile road through the refuge. At the front gate, they saw a couple in civilian clothing hauling a personal boat behind a truck who told them the park was closed. However, the gate was open, and the Bennetts kept riding. They were then met by a man driving a pickup truck who gestured at them. The truck's windows were rolled up, so the Bennetts couldn't hear him and thought he wanted them to leave the park. When they turned around, the driver - a park ranger - used the truck to block them and gave them a $225 citation.

This situation raises several concerning questions about the conduct of national park personnel during the shutdown. Reports from across the nation claim national parks personnel have used a heavy-handed attitude when dealing with ordinary American citizens. In Yellowstone National Park, a tour group was allowed to stay in a hotel on park ground, but they reported not being allowed to visit the park's attractions and being guarded in the hotel by armed park rangers. At Mount Rushmore, scenic overlooks were closed so even passing motorists couldn't stop and admire a national landmark.

All of this behavior is ridiculous. Parks may be maintained as part of the federal budget, but the land itself belongs to the American people, not the government. If this shutdown was listed as a safety concern because of an inability to pay the staff needed to safely monitor park visits, that would be understandable, but closing scenic overlooks on public roads and open-air monuments built off of public walkways are completely unnecessary.

In the case of the Bennetts, yes, they were told that the park was closed, and they had the choice to turn back. But the gate was left open, and the uniformed, armed park ranger's actions when he stopped the couple were over the top. He may have been doing his job by stopping them and giving them a citation, but the aggressive action of blocking a pair of bicyclists with a vehicle was out of line. It would have been more appropriate to roll down his window and tell the couple to pull over. Instead, he chose to be "agitated" and "pushy," according to Peter Bennett's statement in an earlier article.

We would remind the park service that even in the midst of a government shutdown, its paycheck comes from one source - the taxpayer. It should be treating citizens and residents with respect, not jumping to conclusions and treating people like the Bennetts as criminals.

Now that the shutdown is over, we hope everything can return to normal, especially the normally polite and helpful park service personnel.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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