Government shutdown: Gate-jumpers at national parks entering gray legal areas (+video)
Rangers have cited some who have crossed into national parks, which are all closed by the government shutdown. Gate-jumpers could face up to six months in jail, although land policy experts raise some questions.
Merry pranksters daring the National Park Service to “catch us if you can” on federal parklands closed by the government shutdown could face an unpleasant date with a federal judge and up to six months in jail.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures US National Parks by Monitor photographers
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Inspired by Twitter rubrics like #YesWeCone and #SpiteHouse, small but outspoken numbers of Americans are kicking aside cones and barricades erected to wall off America’s publicly owned but budget-busted natural treasures – including the Badlands in South Dakota, the Maroon Bells in Colorado, Maine’s Cadillac Mountain, and Valley Forge in Pennsylvania.
This week, gate-jumpers photographed themselves at the closed Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., holding up handwritten notes daring the National Park Service to “catch us if you can.”
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But park rangers are beginning to push back, citing 21 people on Monday for breaching barricades at Arizona’s closed Grand Canyon National Park and ticketing at least two people at Valley Forge. Other reports of hikers being ticketed have come from Acadia National Park in Maine.
All those ticketed will have a mandatory hearing with a federal judge, who has jurisdiction over federal lands situated inside state borders. The maximum penalty is six months in jail.
The growing tension between rangers and hikers marked Day 9 of a partial government shutdown tied to the inability of Democrats and Republicans to come to terms on appropriations legislation to fully fund the government. Republicans have said they want concessions on the implementation of Obamacare, while Democrats, including President Obama, have said they won’t negotiate.
The closings of not just national parks and monuments, but also massive tracts of federal forests, have become the human face of the crisis. They’ve highlighted the immediate effect of the shutdown on Americans who want to enjoy the bounty and beauty of public lands, and they’ve brought on political sniping about whether the National Park Service, directed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, is going out of its way to inflict maximum pain to score political points.
The gate-crashing scenes playing out at landmarks across the United States have been noticed in Washington. Promising hearings starting on Oct. 16, Rep. Doc Hastings (R) of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, declared: “Across the country, Americans are deliberately being denied access to open-air memorials and national parks ... that were not closed by the Clinton Administration during the last government shutdown.... This is shameful and wrong and we intend to hold the Obama Administration accountable for their actions.”
Indeed, while many national parks closed during the government shutdown over two periods in 1995 and 1996, the closures are more widespread this time around. And at least to some, they seem spiteful – as in cases where park rangers have put cones around road pull-offs so people can’t stop to view federal scenery. At Maroon Bells, for example, rangers closed 5-1/2 miles of a county road that leads to the entrance of the park, with one National Park Service official explaining that “it’s our facility.”