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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?

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The populist push to reopen the parks began when World War II veterans pushed aside barriers at the World War II Memorial, an open-air site in Washington.

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That was followed by tourists like Bob Noelle of New Jersey photographed gleefully throwing traffic cones aside with the Badlands National Park in the background. Subsequently, the Park Service ticketed dozens of gate-jumpers from Valley Forge to the Grand Canyon, ordering them to go in front of a federal judge who could mete out up to six months in jail.

Federal officials had rebuffed earlier attempts by states to help fund the reopening of the parks, but pressure from the public as well as businesses warning that the closures were wrecking the busiest visitor season ultimately swayed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to act. Notably, the openings marked a dramatic difference from the 1990s shutdowns, when only the Grand Canyon was partially reopened after the Interior Department made a deal with then-Gov. Fife Symington.

Also as the closures have worn on, the usually well-regarded National Park Service received a black eye as media glommed onto stories about heavy-handed removals of elderly tourists from parks, and the conservative Weekly Standard magazine even suggested that the Park Service, by barricading the public’s own lands, had become Obama’s political enforcers and put every American on an “enemies list.”

“Pressure ramped up on the administration to reopen the parks amid a public outcry against the forced closings, including outrage over a few park rangers who permitted their inner Gestapo to find expression …,” writes Keith Koffler, on the White House Dossier blog.

In the end, though, it wasn’t Park Service rangers carrying out orders that fueled the outrage. Americans simply refused to allow the country’s greatest natural treasures – beloved by people the world over – to be barricaded over politics and money.

“What we’ve proved here in Utah is that if people will sit down and resolve their problems rather than call each other names, you can get things done in a way that’s the proverbial win-win,” Gov. Gary Herbert told the Washington Post on Saturday. “That’s what they’re forgetting about in Washington.”

For some, the opening of at least a handful of the 401 closed national parks offers a new resolve to solve Washington’s budget impasse.

"Over the past 10 days, the Grand Canyon has been effectively held hostage," Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, said in a statement this week. "Washington may have time to play this partisan game of chicken, but the people of Arizona do not. The president must join with Congress to begin negotiations to resolve this impasse."


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