Tamera Schlueter National Park closures leave haunting image

Hunka Burnin’ Hubby and I recently vacationed in the Black Hills, where we drove to Mount Rushmore on the first of October, and found the parking lot barricaded with orange cones, and guarded by sour-faced Park Rangers yelling, “Park’s closed! Keep moving!”

We were still in vacation mode, so the cause didn’t immediately spring to mind. Plus, we’d just spent a couple days in Custer State Park, and were the last campers of the season at the Sylvan Lake Campground before it closed for the winter on October 1st. So when we saw the orange cones and the crabby Rangers, we initially thought Mount Rushmore followed suit.

“I didn’t know Mount Rushmore closed for the winter,” I said to Hunka. “And I’m obviously not the only one.”

Shoulders bordering the entrance were jammed with cars bearing license plates from New Jersey, Texas, California and states in between. People stood in the highway to snap pictures of stone-faced presidents casting stoic gazes upon the frenetic scene below. Oncoming traffic slowed to a crawl to avoid calamity.

We circled and made another pass. I hung from the window, aiming the camera lens above the annoyed Rangers who motioned us down the road with animated gusto.

“That was weird,” Hunka said, “but I don’t think that closing is seasonal.”

His suspicions were confirmed when we met the same orange-coned reception at the Badlands National Park.

This time we left our car on the side of the road, and stomped past barricades to take in the sights. The park was largely abandoned except for a handful of tourists who followed suit.

“Thanks for saving me the entry fee!” Hunka yelled as we motored past shuttered gatehouses. We took a snarky attitude about the whole affair until we stopped for gas a few miles later. It was a convenience store jammed to the rafters with plates, coffee mugs, and Tshirts; racks of touristy trinkets clamoring for attention among pop bottles, beef jerky and candy bars. I waited in line behind an older gentleman whose hands were full of souvenirs.

“I’m on my way to the Badlands,” he told a very young clerk. “Never been there before — only seen it in pictures.”

He was a man who had once been taller, wearing faded jeans and a plaid shirt worn thin from too many trips to the washing machine. His eyeglasses were thick and dated, and his seed corn cap was well seasoned. His walk wobbled over thick-soled boots, and standing straight took effort when he collected his change. This man had known sacrifice and a hard day’s work.

“The park’s closed,” said the waifish clerk. “You can drive in a few miles, but none of the visitor centers or scenic overlooks are open.” The man’s quizzical look betrayed his confusion, and I watched him crawl into a dusty Oldsmobile and drive toward his Badland dreams.

The image of that man has haunted me ever since.

The average per capita income in the United States was roughly $42,500 in 2012. I’d like to say I verified that via the U.S. Census Bureau, but their website is down due to “lack of funding.” According to taxfoundation. org, this year’s Tax Freedom Day was April 18th. And a search through several Internet sites confirmed that an American working for a private company typically earns 10 vacation days per year.

So here’s a reminder, Mr. President and Congress. Those who are barred from national parks, including senior citizens who were greeted in Yellowstone by armed Rangers, or are being evicted from private homes on federal land, are the citizens who pay your taxes. The governors of Wisconsin, Arizona, and South Dakota have offered state funds to keep parks open, but were refused by the National Park Service. And it could be construed as a double standard when that same service denies WWII veterans access to an open-air war memorial on the National Mall, yet allows an amnesty demonstration in the name of First Amendment Rights.

This partial shutdown has little to do with saving money. It is engineered to hold the country hostage to pass a spending bill that includes funding for a controversial law. We get it. Now get your poop in a group and fix this bloody mess.

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