Thursday, October 31, 2013

National Parks USA


Just like everybody else who is/was in the US during the 2013 Government shutdown, we could no longer visit the national parks. To be quite honest when someone told me this was about to happen I thought they were joking. You can't close a national park, let alone all national parks, they belong to the people. Well... that's what Roosevelt wanted the national parks for but apparently the USA government and national parks in 2013 don't care what their most famous president wanted.

Well before this all happened, I already had enough of the national park service. Don't get me wrong, the parks themselves are beautiful; it's the people operating them that I've had enough with. As it's a government institute the people working for national parks are in effect civil servants. National parks doesn't seem to understand the meaning of the word 'servant'. They simply think they own the parks and therefore can do whatever they like and whenever they like. We should be grateful and thanking them on our knees that we are allowed to see them, they feel. 

The park rangers drive around in expensive cars, fully tooled up and in their silly uniforms; dictating us what we can and cannot do. Not just normal things like 'do not destroy this or that' but also what we can see, when we can see it and how we can see it (making it compulsory to do it via a guided tour for instance); or even flatly refuse entry without giving any reason why. As the parks belong to the people how can that be?

The arrogant attitude was apparent right from the beginning, with the first park we wanted to see. The ranger at the visitor centre told us that they weren't really interested in people arriving with their own transport...?!? She continued by saying they would like to see us arrive in a touring coach...?!? I couldn't believe it. I told her we travelled halfway round the world and saved for 4 years to see this and now they wouldn't let us in? That was correct. If we would like to pay 3 times the entry fee of a car (!) we would be allowed to drive in for about 20 miles but that was it. If we wanted to see any more of Denali then we would have to take the bus for another $50,- per person. 
The campground was booked out for weeks as well, apart from the walk-in sites. As bicyclists were allowed to walk their bikes in, I asked if I was allowed to walk our motor-bicycles in. The answer was no. We asked for a national parks pass but were told they didn't have any(!) and instead were required to pay 3 full entry fees, despite a car with 8 persons only having to pay 1 entry fee. Again no explanation.

Denali turned out to be a trend that continued in all the other national parks we were allowed to visit. Facilities were closed left right and centre as the so called season was over, despite thousands of people still visiting. As parks passes are valid for a full season, the facilities should be open for a full season as well. They don't sell 3 months passes after all.
Apart from fancy new cars and million dollars buildings, we also wonder where the money they receive go to. To the parks? Some of it maybe, but not the majority we feel. Mesa Verde for instance has a brand new, virtually empty and totally unnecessarily expensive visitor centre while the prehistoric buildings, which is what the park is about, are being held together by household silicone(!)

Then the shutdown came. Thousands of people stranded, bookings that were made were not refunded and the rangers started to block everything with signs, tape, chains, gates etc. When I asked why they replied that they did not receive any more money and therefore could not keep the park open. When I asked where the money came from to make and place all these signs, she shrugged and walked away. I asked her to explain this to me but she flatly refused and became quite nasty. She said she wasn't getting any pay. 'Fair enough' I said 'everybody will understand that you won't show up for work when you're not getting paid. People will also understand that visitor centres will be closed, there won't be any ranger talks and activities won't happen. What people don't understand is that you close the doors, close the walks and even close the toilets. That has nothing to do with money, that's simply pestering everyone'. She replied that it wasn't their fault, they simply followed orders. But is that the case? After all everyone has to take responsibility for their own actions. If Washington tells them to start shooting all the visitors, will they do it as well?

Mesa Verde
At the end of the day it's national parks that decided to do this or not. They can refuse. They can open the gates and let everyone in for free, they could have done lots of things. They decided however to deliberately ruin people's holidays, also if you arrived by touring coach...
To me they should sack the whole lot that facilitated the closure of the national parks, top to bottom, and replace the current bush rangers with park rangers that know what 'serve' means. Perhaps that would make the whole organisation a bit more humble and create a national park service that Roosevelt had intended.

Update: One ranger we spoke to at Sequoia National Park fully agreed with what we said... So far we were told over and over again that it was Washington, he didn't. They had told him to lock the toilets as well but he had refused. For obvious reasons we won't give his name but: Good on him!