WASHINGTON — “It’s not our fault,” says National Park Service Ranger George Durkee of the government shutdown that has closed parks, ruining vacations and pilgrimages to monuments such as the WWII memorial.
Durkee, president of the Ranger Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police, is pleading with the public to direct their anger -- and there has been plenty of it -- at their elected officials, not the rangers whose job it is to enforce the shutdown at parks and monuments.
“Instead of being angry with the messengers, we hope the public complains loudly and often to their elected representatives who caused this mess,’’ Durkee, who works as a ranger at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California, said in an open letter to the public. "It’s not the National Park Service or the rangers and employees, who are always here to serve the public.”
Rangers have received an earful from the public over national park closings. In perhaps the highest profile incident, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) confronted a park ranger over veterans seeking to visit the barricaded World War II memorial in Washington in the first days of the shutdown, telling her, “The Park Service should be ashamed.”
Public anger is evident on the Park Service Facebook page, where rangers have been accused of “Gestapo tactics” in keeping visitors out of parks.
“The image of a United States congressman yelling at a park ranger -- doing her job as she was directed -- was shameful,” Durkee said in the letter, noting that rangers face a “miserable, thankless and payless task denying public access to parks during the government shutdown.”
Durkee, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, was critical of a group of Republicans who insisted on defunding Obamacare as a condition for keeping the government open.
Durkee’s letter comes as a pair of Republican-led House committees prepare to hold hearings Wednesday on the Park Service’s implementation of the shutdown. Congressional Republicans have been critical of the barricading of open-air memorials in Washington.
Since the first days of the shutdown, the Park Service has allowed veterans groups to enter the World War II memorial “to conduct 1st Amendment activities.”
Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said that among the problems with allowing visitors into open-air monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial during the shutdown is that there is no one to collect the trash that would pile up from the thousands of visitors.
“There’s the damage and stains to the granite and marble from spilled sticky soda or coffee cups which are allowed inside the chamber because the park ranger that greets people as they enter isn’t there to remind them “no food or drink” and explain why; it’s those 300 additional sets of furloughed eyes and ears that assist with the Park Police with the security of the site,” he said.
“There is more to the operation of a national park than merely opening gates and passing out maps. The reason that these historic landmarks and areas of natural splendor still exist for people to enjoy is because for nearly 100 years the National Park Service has maintained and preserved the resources of the parks and explained their significance in a way that has made people appreciate them and help us preserve them for the benefit of future generations.”