Public spaces have budget cut written all over them

Forrest Johnson

Well, the village idiot has done it again. Wheedling his way through another day, the clown in shiny shoes and a flap of hair has managed to create another whacky scenario, try to cover it up and then admit to his snafu, saying he's done nothing wrong.

"It was a perfect phone call," he bleated. 

What's a "perfect" phone call other than to try to push a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political opponent?

That's perfect.

One thing after another with this guy, every bit what many of us thought this saga would be. The presidency has no bearing on Mr. Donald V. (for vengeance) Rumpt. He's still that con man real estate developer we all know who happened to become a reality TV host and then our fearless leader. Read a few of Lincoln's letters and you'll understand we have the Amateur Hour living in the White House.

That's why it was so nice to get away in our little gypsy truck and camp our way across the Southwest for a couple weeks. Throw in a CD, crank up the volume and step on the gas as we made our way on the blue highways of Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, back to Iowa and finally home to northern Minnesota. We had a lot of those roads to ourselves, drifting across the high plains to the shining mountains beyond. 

Occasionally we'd hear a news report or catch the drifting airwaves from an NPR station but mostly it was Rumpt-less bliss on the open road.

What struck me as we climbed the massive sand dunes of Sand Dunes National Park and hiked in the Grand Canyon and camped in the Kaibab National Forest was the fact that there were hardly any park or forest employees to be found. It seemed as though a lot of the jobs were filled by us baby boomer volunteers who sit in a little booth at the entrance of a park and check our senior National Park pass. At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon there was nobody in the little entrance booth, just a sign that told us to stop in at the visitor center 25 miles down the road, that the campground was full and please be careful with any fire because it was extremely dry.

Don't get me wrong, I like few roadblocks in reaching the backcountry, like seeing few tourists and gawkers who take up space in the more popular locations. Disneyland has it's place but not in the national parks and national forests.

Still, those public spaces do need our help, do need dollars to help manage vast tracts of land.  

As we ramp up the military and give tax breaks to the rich and try to find the money for a southern border wall the inevitable funding cuts arrive at the doorstep of social goods like parks and forests. The environment that defines our country, the wide open public spaces, are last on the list. You can see the wear and tear on trails and campgrounds that close early since there's nobody around to manage them. Budgets for natural resource management are thin. In the meantime, the rush to provide access to extract natural resources is in full speed with this administration. Open up the countryside and get at that uranium waiting in the now shrunken Bear's Ear National Monument! Let's get that oil under the Arctic National Widlife refuge! Let's not worry about climate change, tourists and hikers really want to know what's under those few remaining glaciers in Glacier National Park! 

Cattle ranchers already have access to much of the west, lands managed by the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Those same ranchers were concerned in a Colorado newspaper that the "government" might think about raising grazing fees and threaten their businesses.Hey cowboys and cowgirls, those are public lands we all own, every Tom, Dick, Harry and Mary. The government doesn't own anything, WE ALL DO! 

Try to tell that to the ranchers in Nevada who owe a cool million in unpaid grazing fees and who then had a small armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon a few years back. Hey pals, you don't owe the government, you owe ALL OF US!

What freedom there is across public lands all over this country. Believe me, there is a bit of a circus at some of the parks where everybody piles in to see the sites. At the North Rim we were slowed by the passing of a chapter of the Corvette Club tooling slowing around the winding roads in their gleaming cars, just out for a drive. I'm not sure anyone got out of their cars to look down at the large hole in the ground but that didn't matter. All I hoped was that they understood what a gem we all own and that they would be willing to protect it and other spaces that are so unique.