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National Park rangers ordered to keep visitors out of privately run businesses
The National Park Service has closed privately run marinas, restaurants and inns throughout the country and in some cases even posted guards to keep people from using them during the government shutdown, arguing that it doesn't have the money, manpower or authority to let them operate.
But the moves, which likely have thrown thousands of people out of work, are drawing scrutiny from Congress and don't rest well with many voters who believe the administration is making the effects of the shutdown worse than necessary.
On Friday, the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina decided it would buck the Park Service's order and remain open — only to find park rangers come and block the driveway to the inn to prevent anyone from entering. The parkway itself remained open, but the administration said all concessions in national parks must shut.
"I'm questioning their authority to shut me," Pisgah Inn owner Bruce O'Connell told The Washington Times on Friday as he fought to stay open.
Several congressional committees have said they would look into the Park Service's decisions, accusing the Obama administration of trying to make the shutdown as painful as possible for Americans.
In the meantime, Americans across the country have embraced the chance to flout the closures as a defiant act of civil disobedience.
The Internet has been flooded with photos of people going around traffic cones and vehicle barricades to get to parking lots, bicycle paths and hiking trails.
Still, campgrounds, ski areas and basic services have been closed at all parks, the monuments the Park Service runs in Washington have been barricaded, and rangers are doing their best to keep folks away.
In Philadelphia, the park closures have shuttered the City Tavern.
On Cape Cod, the Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge is closed.
But not all private companies on park land have been shut down. Two high-profile places in San Francisco, the Argonaut Hotel in San Francisco Maritime National Park and Cavallo Point, a luxury hotel in Golden Gate National Park, are open.
The Park Service says those are operating under lease agreements rather than as concessions, which means they are allowed to stay open.
"Concessions operations are required to close; leases are permitted to remain open," Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the parks, said in an email to The Washington Times.
The discrepancies are difficult for some to understand.
One man wondered why Skyline Drive, the road running through Shenandoah National Park, was closed but the Blue Ridge Parkway remained open.
In the Washington region, the George Washington Parkway is open for traffic, and the bike trail that runs alongside the Potomac for much of the road is also getting heavy use — but the Park Service has barricaded the parking lots, leaving visitors to park on nearby streets and cross through traffic to get to the path.
Other federal land agencies have taken different routes. The Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has said some of its concessionaires can remain open.
Although some Army Corps marinas are open, the Park Service has shut down all of its marinas.
"We consider the National Park system to be a single entity, and without an appropriation, the entire system is closed and cannot reopen until funding is restored," said Mr. Litterst, the parks spokesman. "We do not believe it is appropriate or feasible to have some parts of the system open while others are closed to the public."
Mr. Litterst also said that the 3,000 employees still on the job are needed to protect safety and property, and can't staff "visitor services" such as campgrounds.
Mr. O'Connell, who runs the Pisgah Inn, said he never received a certified letter or even a call from the park superintendent telling him to close, but rather got an email from someone in the park business office.
Other concessions had similar stories.
Mr. O'Connell said his workers are not federal employees, and his fire, police and rescue services all come from the county, so he isn't drawing any federal funds. Indeed, the rangers posted at his driveway to turn away patrons Friday likely used more resources — and made it tougher for them to respond to an actual emergency had one occurred elsewhere on the parkway, he said.
Derrick A. Crandall, a counselor at the National Park Hospitality Association, an organization for park concessionaires, said the Park Service is showing less leniency this time than it did during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns.
"Last time around, we saw some superintendents that tended to recognize hardship and perhaps be a little more forgiving of hard deadlines, just attempting to make sure any special needs were accommodated," he said. "This year, from what I'm being told, there were some superintendents who acted to shut down ops before the Thursday 6 p.m. deadline."
He said his organization plans to sit down with the Park Service and ask about trying to find "creative ways" to let the concessionaires get back up and running.
House Republicans have passed a bill that would open the national parks, but President Obama has vowed to veto it. In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said either all of the government must be funded or none of it will be funded.
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