Property Rights Foundation of America®

Carol W. LaGrasse, reprinted from Positions on Property, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Jan. 1995)

The National Park Service Professionals and Bureaucrats Impose Preservation Based on Convenience and Ideology in Service of the Power Structure

A Perception of Cultural Preservation

Falsifying local history, recreating quaint museums of local culture on the local culture it destroys, preventing cemetery upkeep, closing cemetery access to descendants, and attempting to condemn cemeteries it cannot own.

In 1979, newswoman Jessica Savitch reported that in the Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio, the "Catch 22" was that homes taken by the National Park Service will be restored "so that visitors can see what it was like when people used to live here."(1)

The National Park Service should be brought to trial for its betrayal of its trust to preserve the American culture and traditions, especially the Constitutional tradition of private property and the tradition of land-based independence of rural people.

Like any massive bureaucracies, the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the State counterparts cater to the clientele on the inside of power structures and ignore the significance and even the rights of people who are out of fashion or whose cultural preservation doesn't meet the bureaucracy's self-serving purposes.

Naturally, a bureaucracy of the formal purposes, age, size and financial resources of the National Park Service contributes importantly to the preservation of American history and culture. But this is preservation dictated by convenience and ideology. Thus today the National Park Service focuses on vast battlefields, because doing so preserves broad areas of land from "development," but neglects so significant a National Park site as Grant's Tomb, perhaps because it "glorifies" military proficiency, which is not politically correct.

Preservation by principles of power and convenience has deeper, more consistent impact. In the preservation of local culture, in the respect for local communities, and in the respect for history and historic culture valued by local communities, the National Park Service has shown itself crude and brutal.

It is perfectly logical that this be so. What has a bureaucrat in Washington at the top of a pyramid, whose funding and power came from Washington to gain by respecting the culture, vitality and living significance of local communities who, at most, can determine one single vote in Congress?

All of the professionalism of historians, the expertise in the "vernacular" from basketweaving to moonshine, are all the more ironic when applied under a top-down structure that steamrolls local communities.

The National Park Service shamelessly carved the post-World War II Natural Parks out of historically inhabited areas of the country. The most notable three where remaining residents have continued to keep alive the effort to preserve their communities and publicize their plights are the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore where 700 suburban homes were leveled, the Buffalo National River in Arkansas where approximately 1,000 homes were condemned and leveled and the Cuyahoga National Recreation Area in Ohio where 400 homes were condemned and burned or boarded up. The Park Service continues to pressure adjacent communities with park expansion. A major investigation is urgently needed to examine the cultural and community impact of these and every other National Park created after World War II.

But the scarring of local culture to carve out National Parks began in the 1920's. The Shenandoah National Park comprises 200,000 acres of land that was inhabited for centuries. After Virginia succeeded in obtaining congressional authorization for Shenandoah National Park to get tourism trade, the state evicted some of the residents of the area by dragging them from their homes, even forcing a hand-cuffed man to watch his home burned down. The State then donated the land to the National Park Service which was directed by Congress to build the park from donated land.

The Great Depression and the fact that the state donated the land are the basis for the fiction presented as "history" in the National Park Service depiction of the creation of the park. Even though the families and farmers were proud people who would have preferred to stay on their land in security rather than be forcibly evicted during the Depression, the National Park Service uses selective photography of the time to portray them as people who had worn the fertility out of the mountains and were destitute hillbillies. To the outrage of descendents like Lisa Berry of Charlottsville, Virginia, the National Park Service hides the history of the forcible eviction entirely, depicting only that the land was "donated." Actually, 500 to 800 families had to leave their farms and homes in eight counties.

The National Park Service provides access to national
parks to victim groups it is politically correct to favor but blocks access by people wishing to preserve their own past and cherish and respect the memory of their dead.

The National Park Service's consistent practice in twentieth century parks such as Buffalo National River in the Ozarks, Shenandoah National Park and Great Smokie Mountains National Park is to include cemeteries in "wilderness" areas and prevent their upkeep, to prevent people from visiting cemeteries by prohibiting motor vehicle use by mourners and descendants, and to compound the visitation difficulty by allowing roads and paths to deteriorate. For decades, this policy of the National Park Service has been an infringement on religious practice, familial duty and cultural preservation, and is naturally a source of deep personal anguish to the bereaved.

The National Park Service has closed hundreds of small local cemeteries and their access and forced families to tolerate the return to weeds and forests of the ground where they tenderly laid their loved ones. Often the people who want to visit the graves are themselves elderly but the National Park Service makes their access impossible. These people have no claim to official politically correct "victim" status, however.

Compare the oblivion to which the National Park Service has consigned the sacred burial areas of mountain people to the ambitious Park Service plan to preserve a full 235 square miles of private land in the Mt. Shasta area of Northern California as a Native American Cultural Heritage area because of its religious significance. The Mt. Shasta debacle, which the Park Service is pursuing over the constitutional property rights of owners of 1,000 parcels, clearly represents discriminatory provision for the hallowed ground of one religious group. Irrespective of its mandate to preserve culture, it suits the National Park Service's political purposes to let hallowed graves of mountain people return expeditiously to wilderness. For the National Park Service, cultural preservation is for public and political consumption.
- Carol W. LaGrasse
(1) Observer-Record, Newton County, Arkansas, Dec. 20, 1979.

 

"My family had been in the mountains 'forever' when Congress authorized the creation of the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

"We used to have roads, churches and cemeteries. My mother's grandfather is buried there. It is impossible for an 80-year old person to go through the red tape to visit. Some cemeteries have no road anymore. For Roach Cemetery off Skyline Drive in Rockingham County, only people who are maintaining the cemetery can go up there. No one is allowed to drive off Skyline Drive.

"For the tourists, the National Park Service treats the disabled differently, even gives them deaf interpreters."

Lisa Berry, president of Children of
Shenandoah, Charlottesville, Virginia


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