BREAKING: White House Ordering Hundreds of Privately Run, Privately Funded Parks to Close
UPDATE 10/2/13 @ 7:27 pm Central: I just heard from Mr. Meyer. He emails:
It's official. They are shutting all of us down ASAP. Marching orders straight from the White House.
Update: Mr. Meyer emails to add that not only is his business being forced to take losses for the closures, but in some cases the government is making him and the other park management companies buy the barricades that will be used to shut the parks. He says:
We are like prisoners of war who have to pay for our prison.
Warren Meyer of Phoenix, AZ, is owner and president of Recreation Resource Management, Inc. RRM employs about 400-500 camp workers and managers across about a dozen states. It is one of a handful of companies that have been managing national parks and campgrounds as tenants for years, through previous government shutdowns including the last one in 1995-1996. Those previous shutdowns never closed any of the parks managed in this way, but the current shutdown threatens closure.
The campgrounds are self-sufficient and receive no federal funding. No government employees staff or manage the parks. The management companies pay the National Park Service out of the funds they generate from operating the thousands of campgrounds. So the reason for the shutdown is puzzling to Meyer.
Today, he sent a letter to both of his senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, asking for help to keep his parks open.
"My company, based in North Phoenix, operates nearly over 100 US Forest Service campgrounds and day use areas under concession contract. Yesterday, as in all past government shutdowns, the Department of Agriculture and US Forest Service confirmed we would stay open during the government shutdown. This makes total sense, since our operations are self-sufficient (we are fully funded by user fees at the gate), we get no federal funds, we employ no government workers on these sites, and we actually pay rent into the Treasury."
Notice that last part. The parks not only do not cost the taxpayers any money, they pay funds into the Treasury out of the fees park users pay. Shutting them down will cost the taxpayers money.
How much? Meyer told the Tatler that his parks generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per week. Multiply that across his competitors and the Treasury could lose a few million dollars, in what is essentially free money to the government, over the course of the shutdown.
Which, as Meyer points out, is unnecessary, as these management companies are not revenue losers, but revenue generators for the Treasury.
However, today, we have been told by senior member of the US Forest Service and Department of Agriculture that people “above the department”, which I presume means the White House, plan to order the Forest Service to needlessly and illegally close all private operations. I can only assume their intention is to artificially increase the cost of the shutdown as some sort of political ploy.
The point of the shutdown is to close non-essential operations that require Federal money and manpower to stay open. So why is the White House closing private operations that require no government money to keep open and actually pay a percentage of their gate revenues back to the Treasury? We are a tenant of the US Forest Service, and a tenant does not have to close his business just because his landlord goes on a vacation.
The US Department of Agriculture is an executive branch agency, and answers to the White House. Another Judicial Watch FOIA may be in order to get to the bottom of this.
Meyer says he has sought clarification from the US Department of Agriculture about the shutdown. Officials are saying that they are shutting down the privately run, revenue-generating parks "to be consistent with the National Park Service."
That would be the National Park Service which has barricaded the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., and closed a self-sufficient living history farm in Virginia.
Meyer says that the situation could cost jobs and is leaving him stranded, not knowing what to tell groups that are planning to use the parks his company manages.