As a candidate for Congress in the 5th district and a resident of Rappahannock County, I firmly support the resolution of the Rappahannock Board of Supervisors to oppose the tripling of fees to enter the Shenandoah National Park. I am dismayed to see that our current congressman, Tom Garrett, fails to see the great harm that will be done by this administration’s move to drastically increase fees. He has ignored our board of supervisors’ request to encourage Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to withdraw this proposal. Garrett lends his support to Zinke by justifying the egregious price hike as a need to cover “maintenance and upkeep costs.”
Let’s not forget that this administration, with Congressman Garrett’s full support, has just increased this country’s deficit by 1.5 trillion dollars by heaping tax breaks on corporations and the wealthy. This Republican Congress might have considered our national parks’ “maintenance and upkeep costs” when they decided to drain our nation’s coffers to benefit the rich and the few.
Shenandoah National Park is a treasure that belongs to the people of this country. As it was once land that belonged to many families in the 5th District of Virginia, let us not forget that families here made great sacrifices for the park to open its trails and lodges to the public in July 1936. Five hundred families, whose descendants live among us, were evicted in the name of making the park a place for all Virginians and all Americans to enjoy. The idea of making the park unaffordable for people who find it hard to make ends meet is a betrayal of the stated purpose of its creation.
Another buried piece of park history is that Virginia authorities first attempted to ban African-Americans from experiencing our national heritage. As land was transferred to the federal government, they settled on segregated park facilities. Given this bitter history, we have an obligation to abide by the spirit and letter of the law to keep our parks as the American commons.
The General Authorities Act of 1970 states that the nation’s parks are “preserved and managed for the benefit and inspiration of all of the people of the United States.” Let me stress the word “all.” Franklin Roosevelt said, “the fundamental idea behind the parks . . . is that the country belongs to the people.”
Furthermore, Tom Garrett clearly has little understanding of the importance of the Shenandoah Park to those who live next door. Our counties that border the park derive much needed tourist dollars from park visitors. This is a crucial part of our economy, a fact appreciated by both Senators Kaine and Warner who will do their utmost to kill this shortsighted and, frankly, un-American proposal.
Not only should the park fees remain as they are, we should add a provision that all descendants of Shenandoah Park families should receive free passes for life to enjoy the land of their ancestors.
Candidate for Congress
Virginia’s Fifth District