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See my October 3, 2013 update here.
The veterans in DC might be keeping the World War II memorial open by defying the Obama administration, but here in the Smoky Mountains the National Park Service has apparently succeeded in shutting down most access to Great Smoky National Park.
In my post yesterday I described how the park service appeared to be setting up barricades at the various lookouts, parking pull-outs, and trailheads along New Found Gap Road — a public highway through the park which they cannot close — in order to prevent access to the park. Such barricades are inappropriate, unnecessary, and are certainly being done for political reasons. The Obama administration is trying to pressure the Republicans to fold in the budget battle by hurting the American public. By blocking access to these pull-outs the administration is increasing the risks to hikers still in the park and to drivers on the road while damaging the local economy.
Today we drove back up to New Found Gap to see how things were developing and found that my suspicions were correct. While yesterday many of the major trailhead pull-outs were not yet blocked, this evening they all were. As we drove past the New Found Gap parking lot the barricades had been moved into place, preventing our entrance. I also noticed some cars trapped in the lot, as well as some people by the barricades. When I had turned around and returned, I found that a wide enough section of the barricade had been shifted, allowing me to pull into the lot. I immediately drove up to two guys standing by their car to ask them what had happened.
It appears they had come up in the morning and parked at the lot. At the time it was filled with cars and the barricades were not yet in place. They then went on a hike on the Appalachian trail on the section that parallels the closed road that leads to the Clingman Dome viewpoint. During their hike they spotted a park ranger who appeared to be patrolling that closed road to stop tourists from hiking up the road to Clingman’s Dome. Out of fear they hid from him.
When they got back to the parking lot the barricades were in place, blocking them in. There was a note on their car, providing them instructions for calling for aid. One the hikers instead went out to the road and was able to flag down some help. He and several others were able to physically manhandle part of the barricade out of the way (which is what I had seen when I had first driven by). He and his friend were now packing up, getting ready to leave.
They were also both pissed off. “This park is supposed to belong to us all,” said one. However, when I suggested we go over to the barricades now and pull them even further open, both demurred. “It’s been a long day and we are tired.”
I expect that by tomorrow these trails will all be deserted, and the park service will have successfully sealed access. Unfortunately, it does not appear that anyone here is willing to push back against the Obama administration. In news reports and talking to people in nearby Gatlinburg, my impression is that everyone has accepted the closure. Moreover, why haven’t the local state governments stepped in and forced these pull-outs open? The road is public. They have jurisdiction as well as the resources to overwhelm the park service and keep access to these trailheads and the park open.
This is exactly what Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin has done.
The state Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday refused a directive from the National Park Service to close a host of popular state properties because of the federal government shutdown. The park service ordered state officials to close the northern unit of the Kettle Moraine, Devils Lake, and Interstate state parks and the state-owned portion of the Horicon Marsh, but state authorities rebuffed the request because the lion’s share of the funding came from state, not federal coffers. State officials opted to keep public lands open…. The agency also reopened a boat launch Wednesday at Wyalusing State Park on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed the launch on Tuesday because it was on federal land. But in a sign of defiance, the DNR removed the barricades at the landing, saying it had the legal authority to operate the launch under a 1961 agreement with the federal government. [emphasis mine]
The closure in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is doing great harm to the tourist business in Tennessee and North Carolina. It seems the governors of those states should be moving forward to help their citizens, rather than cooperating with the Obama administration’s efforts to punish them.
Meanwhile, I have been forced to make a personal strategic decision, mostly for my family. We had planned on Thursday to push the cones out of the way and go hiking on one of these trails. However, there are barricades, not cones, now at these trailheads. My wife is understandably worried that our car might get towed, or blocked in, because of this.
So, we still plan to hike in Great Smoky National Park, but we have chosen a trail where we can park outside the park on private land and then hike into the park. We intend to defy any ranger we meet who tries to stop us, but by not putting a vehicle in a vulnerable position under their control, we give them less power over us in such circumstances.
Finally, I want to make one more point. This is the United States of America, supposedly “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Yet, in my essay above I describe how American citizens are either hiding from or protecting themselves from agents of our government, even though they have done nothing wrong. When I was growing up such behavior was unthinkable. Not only was no one afraid of the federal government, if a federal agent or federal elected official tried to impose such restrictions on Americans they knew they would be in big trouble, almost instantly. Thus, they were very careful to respect the rights of the citizens, and such oppressive behavior was rare.
Today, however, such behavior is becoming common. And it carries no bad consequences for the government and officials who do it. One would think this was the Soviet Union, not America.
We should all be ashamed. And we should all be enraged at President Obama for encouraging this to happen.