I grew up in the West. Every family vacation, we would collect our gear and head off to the National Parks. We camped and explored the incredible beauty and majesty of Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Zion, and others. Along the way, we took in lessons on geology, geography, and read road side markers which told the history of the states we passed through. We were proud that all Americans could visit these sights.
Our National Park System is truly a national treasure. Its development was championed by great photographers like Ansel Adams and railroad posters that still show up on The Antiques Roadshow. A long line of presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama added to its splendor. The exquisite travelogue and historical essay, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” the Ken Burns series broadcast in 2009 reminded us of this heritage.
In early November, the Board of Supervisors voted on a Culpeper Tourism sponsored resolution opposing a recently announced increase in Shenandoah National Park entrance fees. The peak season fee increase for Shenandoah was 280%. An additional sixteen other National Park properties would also see a significant hike in their entrance fees.
A National Park Service bulletin said that our neighboring Shenandoah Park has $11.3 billion in unfunded maintenance costs. One wonders why the Congress has been unable to fund this American treasure, a treasure which years ago required displacing families that had been living and farming there. In addition to the fee increases, this Administration’s budget for the National Parks decreases funding the jewels in America’s crown by 12.9%. Are the fees supposed to pay for the budget cuts?
Inattention to the joys of the National Parks is unfortunate because the parks attract visitors who also spend money in the areas and facilities near the parks. Having Shenandoah in Culpeper’s backyard is a win-win. The new fees, however, mean Culpeper’s economy will shrink by the decrease in tourist traffic. At another level, the new fees mean that parks are reserved for the wealthy who can pay, certainly not the descendants of the families who were forced into the settlement areas.
The turn to fees for services is a growing trend in America. The taxpayer used to pay for public schools. Now individual families spend their money to buy the tools and equipment the schools used to provide. The annual backpack drives are symbolic of the decreased public funding of education. The rich of course, can go to their private academies.
The I-66 tolls are another illustration of the pay for service mentality. If you want an efficient road system, strap on a flex pass and drive. Some will probably have these toll fees paid for by their employers, for the rest of us not so much.
The discussion of the present Administration’s un-designation of the Bears Ears Monument is also part of a larger trend. The current Administration rules that this fabulous American natural treasure and archeological site doesn’t belong to the American people. It is to be sold off to the highest bidder, whether uranium, oil or gas interests.
Obviously, the highest bidder is rarely the common man. When you review the specific parts of the recently passed Senate and House versions of the Tax Bill, and you ask who gets the money, you can be certain it is not the middle class. We are now in a world of where resources, such as our National Parks are not for our families. They are for a select few, and I fear, their decline in use will be used as ammunition to do away with the National Park system altogether.
The decline of the middle class and the preservation of resources for the rich and powerful reminds me of the WWII Bill Mauldin cartoon showing two officers standing on a cliff looking at the beautiful Italian mountain scenery. The cartoon’s caption is “Beautiful view. Is there one for the enlisted men?” Probably not, as the inequalities in the American economy and society grow daily. Perhaps, however, as shown in Virginia and most recently in Alabama, the common man in the quiet of the polling booth will reassert his claim to the land, air, and sea – the jewels in America’s Crown.
David Reuther is a retired Foreign Service Officer with more than 40 years of experience in intelligence and State Department tours in Asia, the Middle East and the Pentagon. He lives in Culpeper.
Editors Note: This has been reposted with the author's permission, and originally appeared in the December 16th print edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and will not be available online until the following Monday. For now it is only available on-line here.