Shutdown Leaves Skeleton Crews At Closed National Parks

Melissa Block talks to Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, about the government shutdown's effect on parks across the country.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And finally to the national parks. In total, 401 park service sites have been closed due to the government shutdown, ranging from Yellowstone and Yosemite to Civil War battlefields and the Statue of Liberty. And the many memorials along the National Mall here in Washington are barricaded: Lincoln, Jefferson, World War II.

The director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, told me even sites like those that may not seem to require park service supervision do.

JON JARVIS: There are employees that pick up the trash. There are employees that clean the restrooms. There's employees that provide protection against vandalism. Some of these sites are potential targets for vandalism or terrorism. And so, I've had to furlough most of those employees. I furloughed, as a result of no appropriation, 21,000 employees of the National Park Service. And so we are down to just a - essentially a skeleton crew of enforcement officers that provide just the very basics of security. I can't leave them open and accept that kind of impact. That's - that violates my responsibilities to the American people as the steward of these places.

BLOCK: Wouldn't there be times when you would go, say, to a memorial on the National Mall and there wouldn't be staff in the middle of the night? I mean, it would be open and largely unprotected.

JARVIS: That is completely incorrect.

BLOCK: Really?

JARVIS: Yeah. I guarantee you, you may not notice them, but they are there.

BLOCK: If I were to go to a Civil War battlefield that's part of the National Park Service today, how would I know that it was closed? I mean, how would I not be able to get in if I wanted to just look around?

JARVIS: Well, if you came in via the entrance road to, say, Gettysburg or Manassas, the road would be gated, and there would be a sign. If you went on the website before you came, you would see that the website is turned off. And you would probably encounter a ranger or two who would politely ask you to leave.

BLOCK: So there are some staff there, basically, that tell people not to come in.

JARVIS: That's correct.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

JARVIS: Just the law enforcement. We retained our law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical and fire staff just to provide response to emergencies and to protect the parks from vandalism.

BLOCK: Mr. Jarvis, there was a very public visit yesterday and again today of World War II veterans who came to the World War II Memorial, were met with barricades. They were also met by members of Congress who pushed the barricades aside and let them in to the memorial. How do you feel about that? Was that OK?

JARVIS: Well, the National Park Service has responsibilities for a number of sites that recognize the contributions of our veterans. And we want our veterans to be honored. And I think it's unfortunate that at World War II, it has been used somewhat as a political football.

But when I did the closure to all 401 national park units across the system, we did make an exception for First Amendment activities here on the National Mall. And the Honor Flights fall into that category.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Jarvis, thanks very much for talking with us.

JARVIS: Thank you, Melissa. Complicated times.

BLOCK: That's Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.

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BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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