This is a nice development, but still falls a little short of the sort of thing I was hoping for. Everyone knows that the closure of the national parks has been the highest profile example of the supposedly devastating consequences of the federal government “shutdown.” The national parks are very popular, both in theory (people like the idea of a national park system) and in practice (people like actually going to them). The national parks are often brought up as an example of one of the reasons that we must have government. I’ve had several people suggest to me that, if it was all left to the free market, the grand canyon would be filled with garbage and some rich billionaire would buy mount rushmore and refuse to let anyone see it.
Now, putting aside the merits of that debate for just one moment, the question remains: Why exactly do they have to be national parks? This seems like one of those occasions where most people have to be reminded that state governments do in fact exist (and aren’t currently shut down, either). Do people really believe that, barring federal action, various state governments would immediately privatize their most important and impressive natural and historic landmarks? As far as I know, every state has a robust state park program. According to Wikipedia, my home state of Oregon has 50 state parks (and that is limited to the state parks specifically and does not include state trails, waysides, scenic viewpoints, scenic corridors, rest areas, recreation sites, natural sites, natural areas, interpretative centers, heritage sites, heritage areas, or boat launches, all of which are also managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department). Many of these parks consist of little more than some undisturbed forests, rivers, and hiking trails.
Am I really supposed to believe that the state government of Oregon, led almost exclusively by Democrats, would, in the absence of the federal government, auction off Crater Lake (Oregon’s only national park) to be used as a garbage dump? That somehow, Oregon’s most impressive natural landmark wouldn’t be protected? What a ridiculous assumption. The notion that we must have the federal government protecting the most impressive and beloved natural and historic areas is beyond absurd. Oregon would protect Crater Lake if the feds didn’t. Arizona would protect the grand canyon if the feds didn’t. California would protect Yosemite if the feds didn’t. It’s complete nonsense, perpetuated by those who always long for centralized government in any and all cases.
When Woodrow Wilson signed the bill creating the National Park Service, it was given a mandate “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” By refusing to grant access to the national parks, the federal government is clearly in direct violation of this mandate. They are, essentially, refusing to carry out their end of the deal. Even if the citizens of a state voted to voluntarily transfer land to the federal government to create a national park (in my limited research, this seems by and large not to be the case, but rather, the US Senate simply votes on whether a certain area should be a national park, and if the vote passes, it becomes one, regardless of what the government of the state has to say about it), that agreement would become void the second the federal government refuses to honor it by denying access to the parks.
States footing the bill to keep the parks open is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. There is no reason that parks should be federalized. The creation and management of parks is clearly a responsibility that state governments could easily handle. I call on the governors of all 50 states to mobilize the national guard units they control, with orders to open and maintain all national parks until such point as the federal government agrees to honor its mandate, evicting (by force if necessary) any federal agent who attempts to stand in their way. Bureaucrats in Washington DC have absolutely no right to deny access to the natural resources of a state to the citizens of that state. All 50 states should immediately begin efforts to reclaim these resources and historic sites from the federal government, not just temporarily for the duration of this shutdown, but permanently.