Several years ago (back when we had cable) my wife and I noticed this show on the History Channel called “America’s Best Idea” about the creation and history of the National Parks in the U.S.
Now, knowing a little bit of the history of that, I sort of rolled my eyes at the precept that the impetus of the NPS was noble and good, or that it hasn’t had its severe failures. And given my Federalist bent, I’m obviously of the opinion that States are usually better arbiters of “public” lands. So both principally and evidentially, one could say I’m confident that national parks were not “America’s Best Idea.” Nevertheless, many families including mine who adamantly support a curtailed role of the Federal Government in the “Interior” are more than willing to take advantage of national parks in their current state, owned and operated by the Federal Government.
Well…at least until last week. Because what we have seen over the last week is that though the parks CAN be preserved by the Federal Government for our kids and grandkids, they can also be used for something else entirely: political, and supposedly popular political, leverage.
The current executive branch has gone out of its way to not only shut down open-air monuments and parks on federal lands (which often — especially in the case of monuments — cost more to shut down and block access to than to simply maintain), but has gone a step further: the administration has decided to make the life “as difficult as possible” by attempting to shut down ANY private park, or state park, or business, or even homes, which sit on federal land, simply because….well…they can. This includes a colonial farm here in Northern Virginia which, though it’s technically on federal land, it requires zero federal money to maintain. It’s all operated by private money. But the administration FORCED THEM to close. In the case of Mt Rushmore, the Park Service even made it harder to LOOK at the attraction by placing cones on the road outside the park where people often stop to take pictures from a distance.
This brings up the question:
What are “public” lands?
Historically if a place is “public,” it means that citizens are allowed to stand, park, camp, whatever is appropriate for that particular place, as long as the citizens agree to follow a set of rules — which vary by type of public place. Roads, for instance, are considered “public roads”…as long as you follow traffic rules (and in the case of some right-of-way on street parking — parking rules), you can use these public roads. Town centers have public spaces…and then of course you have parks. The small ones are simply for sitting or standing…you have to have a permit to invite a bunch of your friends for an event or civic event….but in those cases, you have very little recourse for closing access to other people.
Very often, the only cost of these “public” spaces is maintenance. In the case of national parks with more extensive services (tours, campgrounds, etc), there is a little more, but often the main cost is maintaining the landscape, not restricting access, and the “extras” usually requires payment by the visitor.
The belief here is that the parks are OURS. It belongs to us. The people. The public. The citizens. The role that government plays is one of SERVICE. It is our RIGHT to access the land. It is held in trust for our use, and the government SERVES to protect that land for that use.
But what has gone on over the last week illustrates that this is a myth. This land is not OUR land at all. It is not held in trust for us. It is the government’s land. We are ALLOWED to access it at the government’s discretion, but if the government decides that we cannot, we cannot. If a state government or private entity offers to foot the bill for a temporary period for maintenance, they are denied. It is not our land, and we cannot access it.
Now as you go about your week think hard about what this means about what our federal government is about, what it has always been about, and why we need to start asking very serious questions about its role, and who ACTUALLY owns things. If this rather casual “shutdown” of “public” lands tells us anything it is that a government with power to preserve and maintain something for the public’s benefit has the power to take that benefit away — immediately, without cause or recourse. In a matter of days, because the current administration WANTED it, and only because the current administration wanted it, we have no national parks. But the administration didn’t simply close all the gates to national parks (which would cost more money because people wouldn’t be paying to go to the parks — but I digress) it went the extra mile, beyond what it explicitly controls, and actively sought “the most dramatic type of action” at their disposal to inconvenience the public, based on its ownership of land, even if that ownership is tangential (as was the case of Mt. Vernon, where they tried to shut down a little parking lot near the park.)
What happens when they, for political purposes, decide that we no longer have access to their precious healthcare exchanges? Or college campuses (because they receive federal funding)…or our legal system? Or roads or bridges that are federally funded or maintained (already happening). Public services are public services. A government which can pick and choose which services it choose to provide, and seek to inconvenience the public — for its own political benefit — is nothing short of tyrannical.
(big hattip to Breitbart)