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Government shutdown: Do national parks really need to be barricaded?

Some Americans see the closure of national parks as politically motivated, but others say keeping the areas open during the government shutdown invites liability problems. For many, the parks strike a chord.

By Staff writer / October 3, 2013

A National Park Service employee posts a sign on a barricade closing off the Lincoln Memorial, Oct. 1, 2013. The government shutdown forced about 800,000 federal workers off the job and suspended most non-essential federal programs and services, including national park access.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Atlanta

As the last campers were being ushered out of Yosemite National Park on Thursday, some Americans were protesting what they see as the unnecessary barricading of the public’s wild lands because of the government shutdown.

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That shutdown, now in its third day, has closed hundreds of national park areas as well as facilities such as boat ramps and campgrounds in federal forests like Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia.

But from Washington, D.C., to Wisconsin and from Colorado to Tennessee, some Americans are chafing against what they believe are politically motivated closures aimed at pinching people where it hurts and reminding them about the importance of a strong central government. To critics, the question is: If the government is of, by, and for the people, then shouldn’t they be able to walk on federal property unhindered, no matter what the politics of the moment in Washington?

The explanation from officials is simple: Without agents able to patrol, keeping the areas open invites liability problems. What’s more, the National Park Service’s mission is to aggressively protect America’s natural treasures, which have now been left unattended by the furloughs.

“Our parks aren’t just Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, but the Park Service is literally the keeper of America: They protect and interpret and deal with all of that symbolism, including the places where presidents were, battlefields – all these things that symbolize us at our best and our worst,” says John Freemuth, a former park ranger who’s now a political scientist at Boise State University in Idaho and author of “Islands Under Siege: National Parks and the Politics of External Threats.”

But that explanation doesn’t go far enough for many Americans, who are documenting closures of facilities that may be on federal land, but are not managed by federal employees.

One case in point is the Claude Moore Colonial Farm in Virginia, which said Wednesday it’s been ordered closed by the National Park Service even though it’s not managed or staffed by federal rangers.

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