Photograph by Carolyn Kaster, AP

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A U.S. Park Police officer watches at left as a National Park Service employee posts a sign on a barricade closing access to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

Photograph by Carolyn Kaster, AP

National Parks: Shutting Down America's Best Idea

The parks are essential to the country's well-being.

Yesterday, as the U.S. government shut down, all 401 of our national parks closed their gates. The campers and visitors inside were given two days to leave. It was no great surprise.

We had gone to sleep the night before knowing that time had run out; there would be no last-minute return to sanity in Congress, no daring White House maneuver that might avert the shutdown. The sequester of last March, with its closing of selected parks, national monuments, and historical sites, had given us a preview and some degree of preparation for bigger hits this time. Yet one word in my morning paper stopped me in mid-paragraph and made me bristle: "nonessential."

Of all federal endeavors deemed nonessential by the government, I learned, the national parks are at the top of the list. Really? I found myself questioning priorities. Many of the choices made in the present crisis do make some sense: The military will not be furloughed, nor will Social Security workers or air traffic controllers. Some of the shutdowns are even to be celebrated, if you happen to share my values: No new oil or gas leases will be contracted on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, and IRS offices are closing here and there around the country.