The Claude Moore Colonial Farm, in McLean, Virginia, presents a slice of 1771 to the thousands of visitors who visit it every year. But until further notice, its website is warning visitors away.
The living history farm is dead, at least for now.
“It’s a perfect fall day, and yet we can’t do anything,” Managing Director Anna Eberly told me in a phone interview. Eberly has managed the Claude Moore Colonial Farm for 32 years. Before managing the farm, she worked for the National Park Service.
Visitors unaware of how the farm is run are apt to conclude that the government shutdown, now two days old, is directly responsible for the farm’s closing. But Eberly sent a note Wednesday morning to the park’s email list. In the email, Eberly says, “For the first time in 40 years, the National Park Service (NPS) has finally succeeded in closing the Farm down to the public. In previous budget dramas, the Farm has always been exempted since the NPS provides no staff or resources to operate the Farm.”
The Claude Moore Colonial Farm, Eberly says, has thrived even as the federal government has treated it with “benign neglect” for decades. That benign neglect would serve it better than the barricades now surrounding it.
Eberly writes that the NPS has already gone out of its way to disrupt an event at the farm: “The first casualty of this arbitrary action was the McLean Chamber of Commerce who were having a large annual event at the Pavilion on Tuesday evening. The NPS sent the Park Police over to remove the Pavilion’s staff and Chamber volunteers from the property while they were trying to set up for their event. Fortunately, the Chamber has friends and they were able to move to another location and salvage what was left of their party. You do have to wonder about the wisdom of an organization that would use staff they don’t have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money.”
Eberly says that individuals and families saved the farm when the NPS zeroed its budget in 1980, so there is no need for the service now to shut it down or barricade its facilities, as it is doing. The NPS claims, in its actions at the World War II Memorial in Washington this week, that it doesn’t want to go around closing monuments and parks, but it is taking these actions because it is worried about staffing and security.
Eberly’s response is as clear as can be. “What utter crap. We have operated the Farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the Farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today. But there are barricades at the Pavilions and entrance to the Farm. And if you were to park on the grass and visit on your own, you run the risk of being arrested. Of course, that will cost the NPS staff salaries to police the Farm against intruders while leaving it open will cost them nothing.”
So the Claude Moore Colonial Farm is closed to all visitors until further notice. Its October festivities are in jeopardy. The farm has six full-time employees and many part-timers and interns. Those jobs are on the line. As long as the NPS has the barricades up, the farm cannot generate the revenue that it needs to sustain itself.
If President Obama and the Senate continue their pattern of declining any and all discussions with the House, could the temporary government shutdown mean a permanent closure for the farm? “Well it might because we’re dependent on the income that we receive from visitors and events,” Eberly told me. “We receive no income from the federal government.” She added that the government is renting the barricades that it is using to close off the farm.
Closing the self-sufficient farm “is not about the money,” Eberly said. “It’s about making a point.”
Eberly warns in her email that visitors now face the risk of arrest if they try to visit the farm, not because it cannot be staffed — her staff were ready to run the farm today, as they have for years — but because the National Park Service, in her words, has become “arrogant, arbitrary and vindictive.”