How do you think the NPS handled the closure?

Government Shutdown- national park closure

Due to the government shutdown, the National Park Service properties were closed to the public for 16 days.  As the shutdown dragged on, a handful of parks were reluctantly allowed to open thanks to support from their states.  There are a lot of ways this could have been handled and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis was brought before a congressional committee to answer some questions about the closure of the parks.

Whether you followed the hearing or not, most know that Director Jarvis came under fire for his decisions during the closure.  Some of the committee, it seemed, wanted to make him the bad guy.  In my opinion it all felt very staged, except for Jarvis, with the committee trying to pin the blame somewhere else.  Blaming Jarvis for the closure of the parks is like blaming the hangman for killing the man YOU sentenced to death (paraphrasing a comment from the hearings).

Yesterday Director Jarvis held a live, public web session to answer some specific questions and discuss where the Parks Service goes from here.  There were some very interesting thoughts coming out of that session that I think will ultimately better the National Park Service and their reputation.  The NPS is starting to realize that they are a “brand” just like any other organization and they have some brand management to do.  As we approach the centennial of the National Parks (2016) we will see the service promoting and focusing their brand and brand message.  I, for one, am excited to see what they do with it.

Director Jarvis defended the closure decisions multiple times saying, “monuments were closed for security and safety when staff were sent home, not for publicity purposes.”  Left with no man-power to run the parks and protect the resources, Jarvis says he had no choice but to close everything.  He goes on to defend his decision that the National Park properties had to be treated as one unit, it would have been a nightmare to pick and choose individual properties to keep open.  The law that governs the NPS is different than the laws affecting BLM or National Forest lands.  Jarvis essentially says it would have been illegal for him to leave the National Parks open to the public during a shutdown.  Illegal or not, it certainly would have been dangerous.

So, for this week’s Weigh-In Wednesday we only have one question.  Ignoring the few instances of overly aggressive rangers, how do you think the National Park Service handled the closure of the parks and monuments?

Did they do well under the circumstances?  What could they have done different?  How could this be avoided in the future? 

 

Is it just me, or do you think Donald Sutherland will play Director Jarvis when they make the movie about this?

Comments

  1. Wilderness Dave says:

    I watched Director Jarvis yesterday talk about the closure and the future of the NPS. While I do think that it was unnecessary to barricade the National Mall, I do understand the closure of the rest of the NPS assets was about protection. All in all, I think Jarvis made the right decision not to decide on a property-by-property basis what would be closed. The whole system has to be treated as a unit. My understanding is that that was the motivation behind originally not allowing states to keep certain parks open. All or nothing, the Parks Service has to remain united. I can understand that.

    I do think that it never should have happened in the first place, but that would be misdirected if I blamed the NPS. What I do like to see is Jarvis and the NPS looking for ways to change the process and policy for NPS finding so that it won’t be subject to closure when the government has one of it’s temper tantrums.

    I am also excited to see the NPS focus on extending awareness around their brand and their brand message. There is a lot of public confusion about where the NPS ends and the other federal lands management departments begin. Coming in to the centennial, I think the NPS has a huge opportunity to repair their reputation and gain a lot of public support.

    • To save on time, I would “ditto” everything you’ve shared Dave. The one big takeaway for me over the last few weeks is just how ripe the situation is for change. The NPS has a good starting point for change and as they know, strike when the iron is hot.

      I sure hope they do.

    • Paul Bartomioli says:

      Why didn’t the NPS evict the squatters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? THAT is NPS property. So much for your “the Parks Service has to remain united.” Jarvis is a political tool. The did the work of the #SpiteHouse, and were happy to do so.

  2. It was scandalous that they closed the urban monuments in DC that had no facilities that needed staffing. If the 80 year old WW2 Vets got out of hand, the local police could be called. In the rural parks they could have been a little more hands-off…patrol for troublemakers, but not peaceful visitors. Last, but not least, they did serious damage to family vacations…what if the international tourists decide to go to Canada next time? The “brand name” of NPS and tourism in the USA has been damaged and NPS could have been a little “softer”

    • Paul Bartomioli says:

      Right, 80+ year old vets in wheelchairs and with canes and walkers are definitely a terrorist group to be monitored. Of course, none of what you raise as issues matter to the squatter and his family at #SpiteHouse.

    • My personal experience – getting booted from Yosemite – was actually more like a comedy. We approached the “checkpoint” as we were leaving and the first Ranger waved us through. He grabbed the car behind me and I lowered my window to speak with the female Ranger ahead.

      Turns out, they are a husband and wife team. She asked where we were headed and informed us to cover our eyes as we drove so as to block our peripheral vision. She further added that we were not to enjoy any of the scenery, not pull off anywhere, and to be certain not to even look at the trees.

      She said all of this with a smirk on her face clearly telling a different story. We shared a laugh, both understanding how absolutely ridiculous the entire situation was and we made our way out of the part.

      I later commented to wife that I actually appreciated how she handled it. There was nothing we could do. She was hog tied as well. She had a job to do which I respected. Her role was nothing more than messenger and her demeanor clearly conveyed empathy for our loss.

      My two boys asked why we had to leave and that, as it turns out, was by far the hardest part of the entire thing for us.

      You see, for weeks my 5 year old talked about the giant sequoias and even made a presentation at school before we set out on the trip. It was a bit of a struggle to get him out of school for 7 days for this epic adventure.

      We left Yosemite on Wednesday, the day before the mandatory deadline, and made our way to Santa Barbara. That was Plan B. The original plan was to leave Yosemite on Thursday and spend 3 days in Kings Canyon and Sequoia NPs.

      The Rangers handled it all perfectly from my experience. The NPS did what they had to do. But in the end, we are the ones that really lost out. We lost out on an epic adventure among the big trees.

  3. Paul Bartomioli says:

    IT was a political action designed to hurt the American people. Interesting that private citizens, who owned homes on NPS lands were evicted, yet they ignored the squatters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Jarvis is a tool, soon to be discarded by his lord and master. He allowed OWS to CAMP on the National Mall for 102 days, violating the law. Yet, he had veterans arrested the same day that they visited the open air memorials.

  4. Last Adventurer says:

    Hey guys, you’re really covering this closure for all its worth, aren’t you. 😉 Well, I’ll weigh in with my .02 cents for purposes of friendly discussion. Did Jarvis – himself – damage the NPS brand? No. Did Jarvis, or anyone in the NPS do anything to damage the brand by their actions – no. Did Jarvis, and the NPS unfairly receive the blame for a larger problem? Yes. I look at this, and agree that there was “brand damage” (if such a concept even exists for governmental units), but asking if the mid-to-low levels were “responsible” for it is a lot like the tail wagging the dog.

    For example: police officers enforce speed limits. No one questions whether they “damage the brand” of their respective departments by enforcing the law, even though no one likes getting a speeding ticket. Another example: the IRS has announced that because of the shutdown, the start of the 2014 tax season will be delayed; but no one has said anything about them “damaging their brand either”. (Its probably because their brand is already irrevocably damaged, but I digress).

    Look; Jarvis and the NPS were in an unenviable position. They had to follow the law (as they do at all times) and they had to treat all of the units equally. Sure, this led to damage to the NPS brand – but in this respect, they were doing their jobs. The NPS is a component of the Department of the Interior – one of many branches of the government. Key words here: branches and components. Last time I checked, the NPS was not in control of anything – including its own appropriations or own budget. All revenues from NPS go into the General Fund of the government, which then disburses a small percentage of such funds back to the parks for operations. In simple terms, the NPS has pretty much no control over anything. Therefore, they did the only thing they could: they closed. Closures were the right thing to do for public safety; and to protect the parks from vandalism (see the recent Goblin Valley incident for what “the public” does on a regular basis).

    From what I heard, most people were escorted out by Rangers who attempted to do their jobs in a professional manner befitting the NPS (like Tim’s story). However, from my own experience as a Ranger, I can tell you that no matter how politely or civilly you tell some people things sometimes, they will want to argue with you or become frustrated because they feel entitled (YOU don’t tell me what to do, MY taxes pay your salary, etc., etc.). This is unfortunate, but also reflects the state of how things are today: sometimes the messenger gets the blame for larger decisions that he/she has no control over.

    The key thing here is to focus on the larger picture that controls what the components do; not what they did when they had no decision making authority or control of what to do.

    Also, those hearings were a joke, IMO. 🙂

    • Yep!

    • Wilderness Dave says:

      I agree that Jarvis and the NPS did bear the brunt of a lot of criticism and frustration that was misdirected. People were angry and frustrated with their government, congress, etc. but you can’t really take it out on them. There were other systems that went down and angered people but those systems were not nearly as open and vulnerable as the NPS properties and staff.

      They were the easy target.

  5. jtgoirish says:

    Closing private businesses on open roads within parks like in the Blue Ridge Mountains was totally unnecessary, as were their attempts to even close road side views at Mount Rushmore. And at the outdoor monuments, if we could afford to pay the NPS police to patrol them to keep them closed, we could have paid them to patrol them to keep it open. I have no quibble with protecting assets from vandalism and closing visitors centers, but we shouldn’t spend as much or more to close a facility as we would to keep it open.

    • Wilderness Dave says:

      I had the same issue with the closing of the websites. Walking away from the web properties and letting them run was less expensive than redirecting all web traffic to a “we’re closed” message and restricting access to sub-directories. Same thought process, why spend extra money to unnecessarily close things.

  6. Jim Folger says:

    The entire situation reeks of the “one size fits all” mentality of the federal government – except when they think there is a need for exception. The “hey, just doing my job” excuse doesn’t fly, for example, with the Pisgah Inn along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sending eight squad cars of armed NPS Rangers to evict diners and guests from the establishment while keeping the Blue Ridge Parkway open was excessive. And apparently illegal as the NPS backed down and let it stay open when the owner threatened legal action.

    Also, I found it hypocritical of the NPS to graciously allow veterans to visit the WWII Memorial under the auspices of protecting their first amendment rights while denying others entrance. Hey. I get them having to close large parks under orders and forcing campers and others to leave due to legitimate safety and security reasons. But the Pisgah Inn? Give me a break.

    • Wilderness Dave says:

      Hi Jim,

      I would definitely agree that there were aspects of the shutdown that were handled poorly. The private businesses and residents occupying these lands really should have been given much more consideration than what we saw. But of course, all I ever saw reported were the negative and outlandish events where people were forced out. My understanding is that there were other areas around the country where it happened very differently….not newsworthy.

      That aside, I agree there was much to improve upon with their process. The one thing that Jarvis said in his live webcam session that made sense though is that when asked why the closure had so many problems and bad publicity, why he wasn’t more prepared he said “We’re not in the business of closing parks, we don’t have a policy in place for that. It happens once every 15-20 years, we’re not very good at it.”

      Excuse? Sure. Valid? Maybe. I know when you ask me to accomplish a complicated procedure I only do every 20 years I’m not very good at it and I look pretty stupid while trying. I do believe there was a lot of pressure from above and the closure was a political move. They were the proverbial child in a nasty custody battle, caught in the middle and punished for doing what they were told to do.

      I just hope some cool stuff comes out of them trying to repair their reputation and improve their budgets.

      • Jim Folger says:

        Hi, Dave. The reason I’m so irritated at the Blue Ridge Parkway/Pisgah Inn situation is that we have a home in the Smokies, less than ten miles from the southern entry point of the Blue Ridge Parkway and 30 minutes from Cherokee and the entrance of the Smoky Mountain National Park. During the winter, it is not unusual at all for the Park Service to close the Blue Ridge Parkway. At each entry/exit onto state highways there are gates. The NPS could have easily closed the gates to incoming traffic and let outgoing flow out during the shutdown. That’s what they do in snow and rockslide situations. I don’t buy Jarvis’ argument as the Park Service IS in the business of closing parks during dangerous times. In this case someone, somewhere within the Park Service decided to let traffic flow rather than shutdown the Parkway but at the same time decided to shut down the Inn. This was certainly a political decision as the shutdown occurred during the dreaded (to locals, anyway) “leaf looker” season when the autumn leaves are spectacular along the Parkway. I’m just tired of the government in general saying they are just enforcing the law while granting exceptions.

        Thanks for listening.

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