WASHINGTON – As the government shut down grew more and more this week, the Trump administration struggled to find a way to keep national parks and monuments open in the United States, though without park rangers, restrooms and other visitor services.
While the federal government appears unfortunately not ready for a general closure, the motivation for this particular exception seems clear: President Donald Trump and his team are trying to avoid the violent reaction that the previous administration faced when it closed parks and monuments in 2013.
It is a movement that puts natural and cultural resources at risk, critics warn.
Jon Jarvis, the former director of the National Park Service, nicknamed him "incredibly idiotic." The park service will not be able to fulfill its stewardship responsibilities, he told HuffPost on Friday.
"The best thing about national parks is that when visitors come, they have a certain expectation of experience," Jarvis said. "There will be service rangers, there will be information in the visitor's center … If they are lost, we will find them, if they are injured, we will rescue them".
What makes the US park system the best in the world, he said, "is a professional body of managers in the field that provides that experience and protects the resource."
The Trump administration has notified National Park Service officials throughout the country to maintain public park access "unless the access poses a serious and imminent threat to human life, safety or health or a serious threat and imminent for the condition of a sensitive natural or cultural resource. "
Major national parks, including Yellowstone Grand Teton Yosemite and Grand Canyon were all scheduled to be open on Saturday morning. Many memorials of war and battlefields are also administered by the National Park Service. And Home Secretary Ryan Zinke posted a photo on Saturday morning of himself with students at an open National World War II Memorial.
During a 16-day close in 2013 – in the first year of the president's second term Barack Obama, when the Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, closed national parks and monuments throughout the country. Barricades were erected around the National Mall in Washington. Signs were posted saying "Due to the closure of the Federal Government, all national parks are CLOSED." The holidays were ruined. The television news broadcast images of military veterans bursting through blockades to access war memorials.
If that experience proved anything, it was that the closure of parks and monuments is unquestionably unpopular. And despite having previously threatened a closure, Trump seems to understand that Americans could quickly blame him for any federal closure they do not like.
One day before the close of 2013, Trump told Fox News that "the problems start from" When people look back decades later, he said, they're going to be talking about the president of the United States, who was the president at that time? "
Similarly, Zinke , which oversees an agency that employs more than 70,000 people and manages 500 million acres of land, including 59 national parks, has talked about the important role these parks play in the way Americans see the federal government. In a speech to agency staff on his second day as secretary, Zinke called the parks "the face" of the Department of the Interior.
"For many of the millions of people who visit our parks each year, you are the face, "he said." So your uniforms, which appear every day, your professionalism, is how most of the United States sees our department. And that's a huge responsibility. "
With Republican-controlled Congress proving that it can not fund the government before midnight on Friday, visitors to US parks, monuments and monuments are expected to face basic operations : open access without welcoming uniformed professionals …
Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement on Thursday that those public places "would remain as accessible as possible" in case of closure.
"The American public and especially our veterans who come to our nation's capital should find war memorials and outdoor parks open to the public, "he said." In addition, many of our national parks, shelters and other public lands will continue to try to allow limited access provided that possible. "
But former interior officials warned that the administration's attempt to save face could be counterproductive .
"With this new direction, where some things are open, some things will not, some things will remain, others will not, and he will ask you to solve it on the fly in 24 hours," Jarvis said. "That's where there's going to be great chaos."
Sally Jewell, who served as interior secretary during the 2013 closure, told The Atlantic that the administration is clearly trying to "reduce the heat," but is "naive" to think that some policemen can protect these sites .
"It's not realistic," he said, "and I think it's a lack of understanding of the roles that so many people play in the parks and, frankly, what [roles] volunteers play in the parks as well."  And Kate Kelly, director of public lands for the Center for American Progress and interior officer during the Obama administration, accused Zinke of "using national parks as pawns in some political game."
"The mission of the National Park Service should not" They will be held together by duct tape and bailing wire to decrease the backward movement of the public in the party that controls Congress and the White House, "he said in an e-mail.
] As head of the park service during the closing of 2013, Jarvis recalls having faced many of the criticisms, remembering the flood of press articles about closed parks, the local economic suffering, the angry tourists, the weddings that had to be relocated.
"It's painful," he said. "The park service hates doing these things. We love that the public comes to see us. "
But that does not justify that these sites remain open without the proper personnel and services, he said Jarvis compared the plan with ordering the Smithsonian to close its doors, but bring its collection to let everyone see it.
"It's not that these areas are impervious to impact, to vandalism, to terrorist attacks, to harm," he said.