Shutdown dramatics pull in private managers of public lands

Private businesses and organizations that manage public lands don't use federal funds are being forced to close because of the shutdown. Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

DALLAS, October 3, 2013 — The shutdown of federal government which began Tuesday is the eighteenth such government closure due to budget impasse since the 1970s. Both Democrats and Republicans work to paint the opposing party as the cause of the continued shutdown, and the Obama administration has taken extra steps to heighten the impact of the closure on citizens.

The most public of these shutdown dramas was the closing of the National World War II Memorial to veterans who had come to visit through the non-profit organization Honor Flight, a group that brings World War II veterans to the memorial. The National Park Service barricaded the World War II Memorial and prohibited admittance to the open-air plaza on Tuesday, the first day of the government shutdown. Leo Shane of Stars and Stripes reported that the veterans from Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, aided by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, removed the barricades and police tape and gained access to the memorial.

On Wednesday, newly arrived Honor Flight veterans were greeted by reinforced barriers and mounted park police, as well as politicians and reporters. A confrontation was avoided when Park Service representatives allowed the veterans to conduct “first amendment activities” to access the site, according to Shane.

Authorized in 1993 and finished in 2004, the World War II Memorial was funded by donations from businesses and individuals and is maintained by the World War II Memorial Trust Fund. However, it is under the authority of the NPS because it sits on federal land.

The Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Virginia has also been closed down because of its location on federally owned property. A notice on the farm’s website states, “In previous budget dramas, the Farm has always been exempted since the NPS provides no staff or resources to operate the Farm.” Managing Director Anna Eberly wrote, “We have operated the Farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the Farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today. But there are barricades at the Pavilions and entrance to the Farm.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tweeted pictures showing NPS barricades closing off the bus turn-around near Mount Vernon, even though that site is privately owned and funded and is open during the shutdown. Blogger Stephen Gutowski of College Politico tweeted that Mount Vernon officials confirmed that the NPS shut down their parking lots Tuesday morning which are co-owned by Mount Vernon and the NPS. The NPS eventually reopened those lots after complaints from Mount Vernon officials.

SEE RELATED: Democrat-led White House rejects WWII veterans visiting memorial

Privately operated businesses on federal lands outside of the Washington area are also being affected. Warren Meyer, an Arizona businessman who runs private campgrounds on federal land, posted a letter to his congressman and senators on his blog complaining that he has been ordered to shut down despite the fact that he is a tenant of the federal government and receives no funds from them.

Wednesday, Meyer wrote, “Yesterday, as in all past government shutdowns, the Department of Agriculture and US Forest Service confirmed we would stay open during the government shutdown…However, today, we have been told by senior member of the US Forest Service and Department of Agriculture that people ‘above the department’, which I presume means the White House, plan to order the Forest Service to needlessly and illegally close all private operations.”

The federal government owns almost 30 percent of the land in the United States according the National Atlas of the United States. However, in “A Tale of Two Parks,” Meyer notes that 30 years ago the federal government began allowing private management of public land, as the government seeks to reduce costs of managing their vast land holdings. Writing for the Property and Environmental Research Center, he noted, “Today, more than 1,000 campgrounds and recreation areas are operated by private companies under the supervision of Forest Services.”

One of the benefits of these private management arrangements has been to insulate these public properties the uncertainties of politically distributed funding or unstable government budgets. They are maintained and sustained outside the political budgeting process, and can even add money into the treasury.


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April Thompson

April Thompson is a writer and home educator. She has a background in pro-life political work, including speaking to national, state and local groups on life issues. April lives near Dallas, Texas with her husband and four children.

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