The Blog

The Park Police, Part Deux: Hot Cops

In the name of the Government, stop recreating!

12:23 PM, Oct 10, 2013 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Since first writing about the conduct of the National Park Service yesterday, events have accelerated somewhat.

The Eagle-Tribune in New Hampshire reported on a local resident who went through something of an ordeal while visiting Yellowstone National park. I’ll let them tell it, just so you don’t think I’m making it up:

Vaillancourt was one of thousands of people who found themselves in a national park as the federal government shutdown went into effect on Oct. 1. For many hours her tour group, which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States, were locked in a Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard.

The tourists were treated harshly by armed park employees, she said, so much so that some of the foreign tourists with limited English skills thought they were under arrest.

When finally allowed to leave, the bus was not allowed to halt at all along the 2.5-hour trip out of the park, not even to stop at private bathrooms that were open along the route. . . .

Rangers systematically sent visitors out of the park, though some groups that had hotel reservations — such as Vaillancourt’s — were allowed to stay for two days. Those two days started out on a sour note, she said.

The bus stopped along a road when a large herd of bison passed nearby, and seniors filed out to take photos. Almost immediately, an armed ranger came by and ordered them to get back in, saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The tour guide, who had paid a $300 fee the day before to bring the group into the park, argued that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos.

“She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.

The seniors quickly filed back onboard and the bus went to the Old Faithful Inn, the park’s premier lodge located adjacent to the park’s most famous site, Old Faithful geyser. That was as close as they could get to the famous site — barricades were erected around Old Faithful, and the seniors were locked inside the hotel, where armed rangers stayed at the door.

“They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed. They told us you can’t go outside,” she said. “Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”

In San Francisco, there’s a restaurant called the Cliff House, which sits by the water on Ocean Beach. The restaurant itself is privately owned, but it’s located within the “Golden Gate Recreation Area.” The Park Service shut the Cliff House down and then, when the restaurant decided to try opening anyway—after all, the Park Service doesn’t do anything to affect their ability to function, and they have customers and employees who depend on them—the NPS came and shut them down again.

To the extent that there’s any argument for the Park Service denying the public access to public lands, it’s generally predicated on the notion that citizens are savages who loot, vandalize, and litter and that without the Park Service protecting them from the public, the lands will be desecrated.

But there hasn’t been any evidence of bad behavior on the part of the public yet. In fact, just the opposite. On Wednesday, a gentleman from South Carolina came to the National Mall with his own lawnmower and started cutting the grass near the Lincoln Memorial in an effort to help care for the grounds. The Park Service instructed him to cease and desist.

I’ve gotten some other anecdotal reports from readers. Leo Kucewicz, in Thornhurst, Pennsylvania, writes in:

[On Tuesday] I visited Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area just off Interstate 80 in New Jersey where the Kittattiny Point Visitor Center is located. As expected, the center is closed and the entrances/exits to the parking areas are blocked with sawhorses.

However, what I didn’t expect were the tree logs the National Park Service placed along the side of the entrance road to block even further people who, seeing the parking areas were closed, may have thought about parking on the grassy areas that run along the edge of the paved entrance road in order to just walk around for few minutes to view the spectacular natural splendor of the water gap created by the Delaware River that separates the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

If that sounds like outright spite, it probably is.

Another reader, Karen Trevett, in Newport News, Virginia, writes:

I was astounded [Wednesday] when I went to my doctor's office for some [lab work] . . . Across the parking lot, where there is a lovely little nature path [through the Lake Maury Natural Area] for patients, etc. to stroll . . . [and] there sits a park ranger in his car, lights on, blocking anyone from taking a stroll. There are no structures, water fountains, handrails—just a nice little area to walk around in for some fresh air. I cannot imagine how much it costs to have a ranger there 24/7 to keep this path closed. I rolled my window down as I pulled up beside him and asked him "Really? And you're not embarrassed?" He gave me an ugly go-to-hell look and rolled his window back up.

P.S. It was a bit chilly today, so he was keeping his motor running . . . polluting, spending money on gasoline . . . all on the taxpayer dime.

Finally, there’s reader Mark Morgan:

I'm a former NPS historian/supervisory interpretive park ranger from two parks (at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi and the Steamtown National Historic Site in Pennsylvania.). I’m now serving as a historian for another Federal agency. For years I've monitored NPS vacancies, just in case the opportunity arose to return to the NPS as a historian. No longer . . .

I have never been more embarrassed to admit that I'm former National Park Service and I will never return. The Park Ranger has long served as an representative of good government, someone who the public looked up to and admired. Through this calculated, politically-driven hackery and thug tactics, the image of the ranger and the NPS with the American public has been broken, probably irrevocably.

I’m inclined to agree, for the following reason. In some ways, the Park Service debacle resembles the IRS’s targeting of conservatives in the run-up to the 2012 election. But there’s a big difference: Whatever you want to say about Lois Lerner, at least she was only persecuting people and groups who she perceived to be enemies of the Obama administration.

The National Park Service has every man, woman, and child in America on its enemies list.

It’s a demonstrable case of a civil agency retaliating against the American public as a whole—on behalf of a single political party.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers