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National parks reopen after mini-Sagebrush Rebellion (+video)

Government shutdown over for Grand Canyon and other national parks. Can political leaders trying to solve the budget impasse and partial government shutdown take a lesson from the populist push to reopen America’s national parks?

By Staff writer / October 12, 2013

Visitors to Zion National Park in Utah take in the sights after the park opened on a limited basis Friday. The Obama administration said it would allow states to use their own money to reopen some national parks after a handful of governors made the request.

Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune/AP

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ATLANTA

After 11 days of government shutdown theater around America’s national parks, several of the country’s grandest vistas are once again welcoming visitors on Saturday.

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Among them: Statue of Liberty National Monument, Grand Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Zion National Park, Glen Canyon National Monument, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Others, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, may open as soon as next week.

The practical workaround for opening the parks – having private individuals and state treasuries foot the bill instead of the US Treasury, which can’t by law pay ranger salaries for non-essential duties – emerged as a simple, practical antidote against the philosophical and heavily partisan tug-of-war that caused the partial government shutdown and the park closures in the first place.

But the park reopenings, some experts say, are also symbolic of repudiation by regular Americans of Washington gridlock, including Republican leadership as well as President Obama, who many thought seemed intent on holding the nation’s treasures hostage in order to maximize the pain of the shutdown and pin blame on Republicans.

Though the federal government is giving up no control of the parks, the decision by states to take charge in order to reopen the parks drew parallels to the simmering Sagebrush Rebellion in the West, where elected officials have long schemed to annex federal lands back into state hands.

“It’s no surprise that the parks became very visible symbols of the consequences of this kind of shutdown, giving us both a teachable moment for people to realize that government does stuff that they like, but where we also saw fundamental manipulation going on,” says John Freemuth, a political scientist at Boise State University and a former Park Ranger.

The reaction to the closures, publicized through social and new media, included acts of civil disobedience as visitors jumped barricades and tossed aside cones, as well as considerations by county officials in southern Utah to order sheriff posses to reopen the parks by force.

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