“Sorry, we’re closed.”

In one of the saddest signs of the times, this message is popping up all across the country as governors and legislators are cutting off funds (and shutting off access) to one of the finest, most popular assets owned by the people of our country: state parks.

More than 6,600 of these jewels draw some 700 million visitors a year to their grand vistas, historic sites, wildlife, campgrounds, educational centers, and lodges. Parks are a tangible expression of America’s democratic ideals: common ground for every man, woman, and child to enjoy and experience. For the middle class and the poor — who can’t jet off to luxury resorts for a getaway — these spaces offer a form of real wealth, something that each of us literally “owns,” knitting us together as a community and nation.

(Don Barrett / Flickr)

(Don Barrett / Flickr)

Yet too many spiritually shriveled, small-minded, and short-sighted state officials are snuffing out this uniting social force, stupidly treating parks as nothing but a budget number or — worse — a piece of the “nanny state” to be axed in the name of ideological purity. Top politicos in many states are closing many of their parks, slashing hours and services at others, or simply handing over the public’s asset to profiteering corporations: Idaho’s governor has proposed eliminating the entire parks department; California shut the gates of a fourth of the state’s parks last year; officials in Arizona and Florida intend to privatize their parks; Washington state has cut off most of its park funding; and Ohio has okayed oil drilling in its parks to replace state financing.

As Woody Guthrie said of outlaws, “Some’ll rob you with a six gun/Some with a fountain pen.” Shutting parks is theft by “in-laws.” Political insiders are stealing the people’s property — stealing from America itself.

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Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He's also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.
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