Writer Randal O'Toole says the problem goes back to the 1960s, when the agency began copying the Pentagon, making sure each congressional district had at least a national landmark in it. Congress learned quickly about what O'Toole calls "park barrel'; and today much of the agency's budget goes into joke parks. Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa., cost $65 million to build and has more employees than Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Yet Bryce draws 1.3 million people a year while Steamtown lures just 130,000.
As national park buildings decay and roads crumble, one answer could lie in creating "virtual" national parks in cyberspace. A first digital step has been taken by Utah's Capitol Reef National Park, which has a Web site that lets people read proposed park management plans and take imaginary trips through the park. What electronic address do you dial for such trips? We don't know. We read about the cyberpark in the Moab, Utah, Zephyr, where editor Jim Stiles refused to divulge the address:
"You'll (just) learn faster than you did before that the Park Service ignored public opinion and what's ultimately best for the park it is mandated to protect, and caved in to some special interest or the pressure of the local congressman. Since the Zephyr is not eager to promote this kind of madness, we will not include the Web address that was included in the press release."
The feds are not as ruthless as their critics would have you think. Take the case of Craig Bromley, a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist in Lander, Wyo., who snuck into his office during the government's shutdown to sign a paper to keep a private survey crew working. That few minutes broke the law against non-essential workers working.
But did the BLM fire him? No. State director Alan Pierson told the Casper Star-Tribune, "I intend to do nothing about it. It's not like he was coming in to do a bunch of work."
Pity Wyoming congresswoman Barbara Cubin. Western legislators are best known for an ability to hold two opposing ideas simultaneously: They're for less government and more federal money in their districts.
In October, Cubin, a conservative Republican, decided to walk her conservative talk. She voted to sell the Southeastern Power Marketing Administration to cut the federal debt even though Wyoming's rural electric co-ops, her fervent supporters, opposed the sale.
Within the Beltway, no good deed goes unpunished. After her principled vote, House Speaker Newt Gingrich cut a closed-door deal and killed the sale, leaving Cubin twisting in a brisk Wyoming political wind. The Casper Star-Tribune reported that she then wrote an angry, plaintive letter to Gingrich: "These people (the electric co-ops) are my base; they campaigned for me and now I have lost their trust and credibility." Oops.
Catherine Crabill of Aragon, N.M., in Catron County, is furious at Outside magazine's November article, "War for the West." She writes in a letter to Outside published in the Hatch, N.M., Courier: "By golly, I never would have recognized my husband or myself in your "article" had it not had our names attached to it! What drivel!'
To correct the impression Outside gave that she and her husband were off the wall, Crabill describes her real views: "That as a result of Presidential Executive Order, the Sec. of the Treasury holds all the power of the Executive Branch and answers to the globalist elite. That there is an agenda that is in our Public Law to surrender our country to the United Nations, and that we are on the verge of having our economy pulled out from under us by all of the above. I mean, it just goes on and on! And these globalists just love you greenies for helping their program along."
But Crabill confesses to a shameful earlier period when she "sat with you people for years in places like Aspen's Pour La France quaffing croissants and cappuccinos, talking custom Italian racing bicycles (All campy, of course ...) and gear ratios. I've hung with you people on the sundeck of Aspen Mountain, skiing out of bounds ..."
"... on behalf of myself and my family, I thank all of my dear friends and neighbors in Catron Country for teaching us what it means to be dear friends and neighbors, and forgiving me for having been one of you-people in a former life."
In Montana, Gov. Mark Racicot has become an expert on the habits of the imperiled bull trout. In Colorado, Gov. Roy Romer travels the state talking about "smart growth," and in Utah, Gov. Mike Leavitt is quietly nudging the Hee Haw county commissioners in southern Utah toward a realistic position on wilderness.
Everywhere you look in the West, earnest governors are talking to earnest constituents about serious problems. Everywhere except in Arizona, where residents and their high-flying governor continue to have all the fun. Here, for example, is Gov. Fife Symington, a recent bankrupt, speaking to county supervisors, as reported in the Nov. 17 Arizona Republic:
"I'm there to help solve problems, whether I have to dredge a lake at Havasu, or shoot a spotted owl somewhere, or build a bridge across a creek that the BLM and the Forest Service don't want us to build - whatever the issue, call me, I'm there to help."
If you have ever dreamt of running away to join the ski industry, this may be the time. The Aspen Times was printing twice the usual number of help-wanted ads in late November, before the town had snow. The Times story on the help shortage was illustrated with tongue-in-cheek ads, one of which read: "Help wanted: Name your own pay. Free housing. College tuition for your children. Weekends in Cancun." The article quoted one restaurant operator as saying, "If it's short now, that's really a bad sign. People tend to disappear, for whatever reason, as the season progresses."
" Ed Marston
Heard Around the West invites readers to get involved in the column. Send any tidbits that merit sharing - small-town newspaper clips, personal anecdotes, relevant bumpersticker slogans. The definition remains loose. Heard, HCN, Box 1090, Paonia, CO 81428 or HCNVIRO@aol.com