Free Red Rock Two!

One of the stupidest things about the tea party temper tantrum that has closed large swaths of our government is the idea of closing national parks, monuments and recreation areas.

But the good news is, there’s time to fix it, especially if the shutdown continues for the foreseeable future.

I’m all for people understanding what their taxes pay for; I once penned a long story for Las Vegas CityLife on how no American goes even one day without relying on one sort of government service or another. And our national parks and monuments are some of the best things we buy with our taxes.

But closing them down just because Republicans in Congress refused to approve a funding bill unless President Barack Obama delayed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? That’s as silly as the shutdown itself.

Two visitors got the business end of that silliness this week. As the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean reported, Gina Borchers and Donna Kanehl were hiking in the closed Red Rock Canyon when they were approached by a ranger who demanded ID, accompanied them back to their car and issued them both citations carrying a $275 fine. All for the very serious crime of hiking during a government shutdown.

It’s hard to think of something more ridiculous, other than perhaps shutting down the government in the 44th attempt to keep people from getting health insurance.

People were hiking in Red Rock Canyon long before it was under the Bureau of Land Management. (For that matter, humans were hiking there long before there was a United States of America!) That doesn’t need to stop just because parts of the government have temporarily ceased to function.

The solution is simple: You put up a sign that says, “Because of the government shutdown, this area is not being patrolled by park rangers. Please be careful as you enjoy the scenic wilderness, as you’re doing so at your own risk.” Perhaps append the number for the intrepid Las Vegas police search and rescue team, which is still on the job.

The same goes for Lake Mead, for the Grand Canyon and for all the monuments in Washington, D.C. What’s going to happen, really, if people are able to walk up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial without government employees to help them?

Someone suggested they might commit acts of vandalism, but that actually happened when the government was open for business and officers were on the job!

Besides, the image of World War II veterans — having come to their nation’s capital on honor flights — being turned away from a memorial dedicated in their honor is simply outrageous. And it allows Republicans to dodge the fact that it was members of Congress in their ranks who are singularly, exclusively and entirely responsible for the barriers having to go up in the first place.

Besides, the fact is, those are public lands. That means we all own them communally, and we all have the right to enjoy them as Americans. Yes, they are under the protection and management of our employees in the federal service. But they are no more owned by those employees than John Boehner owns the office that he temporarily occupies in the Capitol building.

Not only that, but national parks, memorials and recreation areas are a nice metaphor for these troubled times. They’re reminders of what we all have in common as Americans: A shared heritage, an appreciation for a nation dotted with beautiful wonders, and the ability to overcome all challenges thrown our way and emerge renewed as one people united in common purpose.

Some of the Republicans we elected to national office may have temporarily forgotten that we’re a country not just of arguments, competing ideas and different approaches, but also of resolution, compromise and law. They will eventually realize that, either by honest conviction or political reality. When they do, we can all get back to enjoying everything we hold in common, including our public lands.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276, or via email at ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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