Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Locked out of Florida’s treasures


OUR OPINION: The federal government shutdown of national parks is another example of a dysfunctional Washington

Among the many casualties of the federal government shutdown are the nation’s 401 national parks, the people who work in them, the gateway communities that benefit from their existence and the millions of visitors left standing outside their locked gates.

The financial repercussions are deep. In the Florida Keys, fishing guides are locked out of some of the best catch areas in Biscayne and Florida Bays. Forget about the big Columbus Day weekend festivities at Biscayne National Park. The park is closed and visitors are warned to stay away.

Motel and restaurant owners in South Miami-Dade and Monroe counties are feeling the effect, too. For them, fewer park visitors means fewer customers.

In Arizona, groups who waited from two to 17 years for a permit to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon are camped out in hopes that Congress will come to its senses before their permits expire. Would-be river runners have come from as far away as Austria, according to the AP.

All across the country families have had to cancel vacations planned in national parks and refuges. School administrators have delayed students’ trips to federal sites, from Independence Hall in Philadelphia to Civil War battlefields located from Pennsylvania to North Florida. Last year, 287 million people visited national parks and battlefields — meaning there are a lot of disappointed people out there, many of whom will remember those locked gates come the next election.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, a recent poll showed that nine out of 10 Americans want and expect the federal government to keep national parks open, protected and adequately funded. The NPCA says that the government shutdown has actually made a bad situation worse for our national parks. Over the past three years, the National Park Service budget has been cut by 13 percent — $315 million in today’s dollars.

The reductions have forced park superintendents to reduce services for visitors. New park road openings and other amenities have been delayed or deferred. Some visitor centers, picnic areas and campgrounds have been closed or have reduced hours and public access. Park maintenance has been cut back, meaning more costly repairs down the road. And that was before the shutdown, which furloughed 20,000 of the NPS’s 23,000 employees. Only personnel needed for maintenance, fire responses and other emergencies are still on duty.

Is this really how we want to treat our vast string of environmental jewels, our historical heritage? To first nickel and dime them into reduced circumstances and then, in a fit of Capitol Hill pique, shut them down altogether?

When the last shutdown occurred in 1995, the sight of locked park gates stirred Americans’ ire more than most other consequences. The perpetrators of this closing are risking the wrath of a public that wants the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial open to one and all.

The entire House and Senate membership should be shamed by the lockout at facilities owned and paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

The shutdown is depriving the public of many other vital services — for example, the operations of the National Institutes of Health. The House has passed a few bills to fund some of these programs as recalcitrant members of Congress awaken to the horrible consequences of the shutdown, but that’s no solution.

The only way to provide relief is to reopen the government. All of it.

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