As the nationwide federal government shutdown enters its second week, the country’s national parks and historical monuments are straining under increasing quantities of trash and human waste. Because many sites have remained at least partially open during the shutdown despite a lack of National Park Service staff, trash is not being picked up, bathrooms are filling to capacity with human waste, and visitors are running wild. Small groups of volunteers and local businesses have stepped in to fill some of the staffing gaps by donating toiletries and by helping to clean and sanitize bathrooms, but it has not proven to be enough to prevent widespread disorder. The Los Angeles Times reported that illegal camping activities have increased in Joshua Tree National Park outside Los Angeles, where hundreds of thousands of visitors frequent the park during the busy holiday season. According to the report, visitors have lit illegal fires in the park and in some instances, have strung Christmas lights from the park’s namesake Joshua trees, a spiky species of yucca that can reach 40 feet in height and only grows in the Mojave Desert. Joshua Tree National Park closed to visitors on Wednesday due to the sordid conditions. In nearby Death Valley National Park, local concessionaires have picked up where the Park Service left off and are currently maintaining the park’s trash and bathroom facilities. https://twitter.com/schwellenbach/status/1080462580114747392?s=21 Unlike previous shutdowns, local and state authorities across the country have enacted contingency plans to keep parks and historical sites open during the current impasse, a practice that has helped keep local businesses dependent on park traffic afloat but has left the parks open to unmitigated destruction. Joe De Luca, a sales associate at Nomad Ventures in the town of Joshua Tree told The Washington Post, “The parks are supposed to be heritage sites for generation after generation. I would rather they close than be damaged.” The Daily News reported that Yosemite National Park in Northern California was forced to close this week after visitors were found defecating beside roads in the park. In Utah, the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks were also forced to close because no one was around to plow snowed-in roads, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The shutdown comes as scandal-plagued Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke officially steps down. There is hope yet, however. A new Democratic majority is taking office in the House of Representatives on Thursday and is widely expected to pass a new funding bill to reopen the government.
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President Donald Trump announced last week that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke would be resigning at the end of 2018. And while even ardent supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to praise any move by the current administration, the end of Secretary Zinke’s corruption-riddled tenure at the helm of the Department of Interior is, perhaps, cause for brief, though bittersweet, celebration. America—and the world—is better off with Zinke out of office. Why? For one, over the two short years Zinke has been at the helm of the Department of Interior, he has continually treated his office like a personal piggy bank by making ridiculous purchases and indulging in a penchant for unnecessary private jet travel, all at taxpayer expense. Worse by a mile, however, is the fact that Zinke has also been hell-bent on using his position to perpetuate environmental destruction. Tasked with overseeing and maintaining roughly one-quarter of America’s land area, Zinke has instead transformed the Bureau of Land Management into a bargain bin thrift store open exclusively for the country’s grifting oil and mineral moguls. Under Trump’s direction, Zinke has scrapped Obama-era regulations and opened up for exploitation formerly off-limits public lands at break-neck speed. As a result, business is booming for the world’s extraction industries in America, indigenous rights have been superseded, deadly carbon emissions are on a precipitous rise, and environmental safeguards for clean air, water, and soil have been trampled. Under Zinke, America is having a going-out-of-business sale with public lands across the country on the auction block. A few examples: In Utah, the Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were drastically shrunk and partially sold-off; in Alaska, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve, the largest pristine landscape in the country, are being opened for oil exploration; and off the nation’s coasts, roughly 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf was also approved for resource extraction. All along, the plan has been to reduce environmental regulation and protections so that public lands can be mined, probed, and drilled for private profit. With global climate change reaching a new cataclysmic phase as the cost of renewable energy continues to fall, one must question why these approaches were taken at all. But as America joins Russia, Saudi Arabia, and others in a new “axis of climate evil,” the scheme becomes quite clear. To paraphrase and update a recent report from The Atlantic, cruelty—and private profit—drive many of the administration’s policy decisions. At the Department of Interior, Zinke has presided over a radical shift that has transformed the federal government into an instrument of business, stripping it of its historic role as a steward of public landscapes and, by direct extension, of the public itself. This administration’s profit-driven and deleterious impacts on our national parks and monuments have been particularly vile and will likely take generations to repair. Given ever-increasing estimates of the potential destruction that could be wrought by climate change, however, it’s unlikely whether repair will even be possible if the administration’s “America First” energy policy comes to fruition. This approach has not been without controversy, of course: Reports cite Zinke’s escalating ethics crises as a main driver for his resignation. So, although Zinke famously arrived for his first day in office on horseback, he leaves Washington running with his tail between his legs as an ascendant Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives threatens to set its sights on one of the administration’s most blatantly corrupt individuals. The outcome proves what while it takes a supreme level of nihilistic cowardice to steal from the future only to then run from the repercussions, Trump’s administration is filled with individuals willing to do the same. Zinke’s disgraceful tenure, like those of ex-EPA head Scott Pruitt, ex-attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the current grammatically-challenged Department of Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, proves that this particular basket of deplorables was all picked from the same rotten tree. To put it simply: If you care at all, even slightly, about the need to preserve and venerate the country’s iconic landscapes, about the public’s right to access public lands, or about the freedom to breathe clean air and drink untainted water, then Zinke’s tenure should fill you with dread and disgust. Under Zinke, the Department of Interior became a middleman between gluttonous extraction industries and the federal government’s land bank, plain and simple. Pristine landscapes have been sold off, soiled, and laid waste, indigenous rights have been superseded, and America’s vast territorial legacy has turned into a get-rich-quick scheme by an administration that sees personal profit as a professional virtue. It’s sad. There’s no silver lining, either, because Zinke’s replacement will likely pick up where the now-disgraced Montana politician is leaving off.
Last week, the youth corps of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, called HOPE Crew (short for Hands-On Preservation Experience), launched a week-long project to save Grand Teton National Park's historic Crandall Studio in the Jenny Lake Historic District. The project was formed in partnership with the National Park Service's Western Center for Historic Preservation and the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps. The Crandall Studio is the cabin of photographer and painter Harrison R. Crandall, later used as a dancehall, studio, general store, and visitor center for the park. The cabin is the gateway to Jenny Lake – a placid glacial lake surrounded by the cragged peaks of the Tetons. This rehabilitation is part of HOPE Crew's broader mission to foster a preservation ethic in youth through firsthand exposure to preservation philosophy as well as to the physical work of preservation, from stabilizing walls to repairing roofs in historic buildings. It also serves to fill a gap in the lack of manpower and expertise many national parks are experiencing. Having already completed upwards of 100 projects since the project's inception in 2014, HOPE Crew builds a knowledge base they can bring from one site to the next, applying restoration techniques learned from work at neighboring parks like the Old Santa Fe Trail, Mesa Verde National Park, and Tuzigoot National Monument. The program has contributed nearly $14.3 million in preservation work to parks and buildings across the western United States, with a membership roster that is ever growing. With the possibility of massive cuts to the National Parks budget on the horizon, casting doubt on the ongoing maintenance of historic sites, HOPE Crew seems to demonstrate a productive model for public-private partnerships that encourages preservationist values in the next generation who, like it or not, will inherit these public lands.
Chicago's historic Pullman neighborhood will become a national monument, perhaps putting it into the National Park Service's portfolio—the first Chicago property to receive such a designation. President Barack Obama is expected to name the Far South Side area a national monument during a visit to his adopted hometown next week, invoking his presidential authority under the Antiquities Act for the 14th time. White House officials said it is part of Obama's efforts to diversify the nation's collection of historic places. An analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress found fewer than one-fourth of 461 national parks and monuments had a focus on diverse groups. The home of Pullman Palace Car Co., which made sleeper cars for rail passengers, the Pullman area retains a collection of Queen Anne–style architecture left over from Pullman's worker housing and administration buildings. That collection is considered one of the country's first “company towns.” Once prairie land, Pullman became part of Chicago in 1907. An 1894 strike cemented its place in labor history, when U.S. marshals killed several workers participating in the country's first industrywide walkout. That strike led to the creation of the nation's first African American union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Illinois lawmakers said in a letter to the President that Pullman “helped build the black middle class and laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century." The boundaries of the district will be 103rd Street on the north, 115th Street on the south, Cottage Grove Avenue on the west and the Norfolk & Western rail line on the east.
Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Congresswoman Robin Kelly today announced their intention to introduce legislation that would make the Pullman Historic District Chicago’s first national park. Since last year, a movement to designate the South Side Pullman neighborhood a national park has gained momentum. Its historic building stock—full of Romanesque and Victorian Queen Anne style buildings by architect Solon Spencer Beman and landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett — was lauded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Trust's president, Stephanie Meeks, cheered today’s announcement in a press release:
While the Trust has long supported these preservation efforts at Pullman, we are announcing today that we have named it our newest National Treasure. National Treasures are a portfolio of highly-significant historic places throughout the country where the National Trust makes a long-term commitment to finding a preservation solution. Working with the National Parks Conservation Association and many other partners, the Trust is pledging to stay involved until Pullman receives the recognition it so richly deserves.George Pullman train-car empire birthed the planned industrial town that bears his name during the 1880s. After Pullman died in 1897, the city of Chicago annexed the town. It averted demolition a few times during the 20th century, eventually gaining National, State and City landmark status in 1972. National Park status could bestow additional protections and make it easier for preservation groups in the area to get funding and assistance, in addition to a boost in tourism.
Parks for the People The Octagon Museum 1799 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. Through November 30 Parks for the People presents student ideas of how to reimagine our national parks as natural, social, and cultural destinations. Teams from City College of New York, Rutgers, Cornell, Florida International University, Kansas State, Pratt, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington competed in a semester long studio, engaging questions of the preservation, sustainability, accessibility, and technology in 21st century national parks. The National Parks Service, Van Alen Institute, and the National Parks Conservation Association sponsored the competition, which ultimately declared the teams from City College, for their work on the Nicodemus National Historic Site in Kansas, and Rutgers, for their project at the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Pennsylvania (above), the winners. All seven entries, each representing a different region of the country, will be on view at the Octagon Museum in Washington, D.C.