Union Lists 10 Worst National Parks

by Dave Workman
Senior Editor

Visiting a national park used to be a family adventure, and about the worst that might happen would have been an unpleasant encounter with a bear that steals your food.

Nowadays, murder, mayhem, drug running, assaults and other crimes pose a far greater risk in several parks, according to an organization of park rangers. Interior Secretary Gale Norton is reportedly looking hard at the problem, Gun Week has learned.

The US Park Rangers Lodge (PRL) of the Fraternal Order of Police has, for the third year in a row, identified the 10 Most Dangerous National Parks in the country. For the first time, there are also several “Dishonorable Mentions.” The listing is not based on scientific polling data, but on feedback and information from park rangers.

Because of this worsening scenario—especially in parks along the US-Mexico border—an informal poll of gunowners on the Internet by Gun Week found overwhelmingly that respondents think the ban on concealed carry inside national parks should be abolished. Federal regulations prohibit citizens from going armed in national parks (CFR, Title 36—Parks, Forests, and Public Property, Section 2.4: Weapons, Traps and Nets). The full text of the regulation may be viewed by visiting: www.nps.gov/pub_aff/e-mail/weapons.htm.

But gunowners question why, if they are licensed by a state to carry concealed just about anywhere else, including national forests, lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, state forests and parks, why should they not be able to carry inside a national park located within their state?

According to Dennis Burnett, law enforcement administrator for the National Park Service (NPS), the firearms prohibition was originally instituted to prevent hunting inside the parks. Only in about 57 of the nation’s 380-plus national parks is hunting allowed. The question of allowing citizens to carry concealed for their own defense really has not been discussed, he said, but that’s not to say it won’t be.

If public demand brought the issue to Norton’s attention, it is possible the Interior Department or NPS might consider a rule change. Such changes are automatically subject to public comment, Burnett stated, and would not occur quickly. The ban dates back some 50 years, he said.

The PRL identified Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona as the worst of the bunch, followed in order by: Amistad National Recreation Area and Big Bend National Park, both in Texas; Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada and Arizona; Coronado National Memorial, Arizona; Biscayne National Park, Florida; Shenandoah National Park, Virginia; Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey/Pennsylvania; Edison National Historic Site, New Jersey, and Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Remarkably, only one of these parks—Yellowstone—would be considered to pose a threat due to wildlife conflicts. Only Yellowstone has grizzlies. Bears apparently do not constitute a danger, as notably missing from the list are Montana’s Glacier National Park, every national park in Alaska, and Washington’s North Cascades National Park.

PRL Executive Director Randall Kendrick of Fancy Gap, VA, told Gun Week that his group includes park rangers from across the nation. They were polled unscientifically about the state of national parks, and their candid responses led to the creation of the Worst 10 list.

Kendrick acknowledged that the NPS is “not that pleased with us.”

However, Earl E. Devaney, inspector general of the Interior Department—the agency that administers the National Park Service—testified before the US Senate Committee on Finance last Jan. 30 that law enforcement in the national parks is in “a disquieting state of disorder.”

Richard Powell, NPS program manager for risk management, said prohibiting firearms in the parks is no different than a city prohibiting concealed carry within its jurisdiction. The concern appears to be focused on preventing people from having guns so they would not commit crimes.

“We’ve had people with firearms in parks . . . and they have shot wildlife . . . and they were arrested for that,” Powell said.

He confirmed, however, that the problems in the national parks are primarily crimes against people, not wildlife. Relatively rare are confrontations between humans and bears or other wildlife, he said.

“You have people against people and assaults with deadly weapons, just like in a big city,” Powell told Gun Week.

He said most parks have a commissioned law enforcement officer on staff, whose job is to help visitors enjoy themselves, “but at the same time try to regulate activities so they can have a good time without being a danger to themselves or others.” But the job is quickly growing in scope far beyond the level of taming obnoxious drunks or catching car prowlers at trailheads.

The dangerous park listing has gotten the attention of network news agencies and various newspapers around the country over the past couple of years.

Kendrick, who retired eight years ago following a 31-year career with the park service, said his organization has deliberately avoided taking a position pro or con on the subject of concealed carry inside national parks. Gunowners, on the other hand, tell Gun Week that it is time for national parks to drop the ban on firearms within their boundaries.

Gunowners Speak
Park regulations prohibit concealed carry, and allow firearms only if they are unloaded, cased and, if possible, broken down, so that they are inoperable. Visitors must advise the gate attendant or park ranger they have a firearm.

Gun Week ran an informal survey of firearms owners via a couple of internet talk lists, and they were quick to respond.

Bruce W. Evans from Colorado City, TX, said he carries a firearm in his vehicle when traveling, and sees no reason why he should not be able to have a gun inside a national park for personal protection. He said it is time for the NPS to drop its gun prohibition.

Mark Lintz of Pasco, WA—a state that is home to Mount Rainier, Olympics and North Cascades national parks—put it bluntly: “I follow the legal advice of Marbury v. Madison (that) ‘All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.’ ”

He suggested that the ban on firearms amounts to a suspension of the Constitution, at least the Second Amendment, within the boundaries of national parks.

According to the ranger survey, Mount Rainier and Olympics parks are relatively safe environments, compared to those in the 10 Worst list, and a handful of dishonorable mentions. Kendall said that parks throughout the Pacific Northwest got no negative reports.

Tucson, AZ, resident Geoff Beneze, who lives near national park land in southern Arizona, noted that the ban on guns inside the park, especially in his state, “is a rather idiotic rule based on emotion rather than any rational thought.”

Beneze suggested there are legitimate concerns, especially in park lands along the US-Mexico border, about illegal aliens and criminals coming north. To reach his private ranch from his Tucson home, he must travel either through Fort Huachuca military reservation or Coronado National Memorial, he explained.

“When we go to the ranch, I carry enough armament to take over Sonora, Mexico,” Beneze quipped, “both for my own recreation and due to the border unrest and the predation we’ve seen on our property as a result.

“It’s time to end the CCW ban across the entire country,” he concluded. “There is simply no statistical support for maintaining such a ban.”

Lane Dexter of Newhalem, WA—a community lying in the shadow of the North Cascades National Park—concurred.

“It is most emphatically time to end the ban on carrying weapons in national parks,” Dexter told Gun Week. “The goblins know parks are good hunting grounds for their prey. . . . A valued member of my crew is the widow of a former deputy here. She was privy to happenings that most folks didn’t hear about. She will not walk in the park or recreation area without a gun. She does not recommend that any woman do so. From keeping my own ear to the ground, I know we’ve had attacks on local trails, and I don’t mean by four-footed animals.”

Dave Johnson, a Fridley, MN, resident, called the CCW ban in national parks “a bad law” that is “just as hideous as” the Gun Control Act of 1968.

“Predators are everywhere,” he said. “National parks are not immune.”

Ken Dawe of Kent, WA, pondered, “Why are citizens denied the right to self-defense in national parks? Is the Constitution null and void wherever the Interior Department says? With more and more drug operations moving out of homes and onto public lands, will there be an armed ranger present when I need one?”

“What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ did the NPS not understand,” questioned Michael Gilmet of Rineyville, KY. “Along with every other anti-American law, this one should be eliminated.”

Added Greeley, CO, resident Rick Shay: “If government agencies at all levels are not legally responsible for my protection, then how dare they tell me I can’t carry my own means of protection, wherever I go.”

Charles Featherman, of Dushore, PA, told Gun Week that he “just won’t go” to a national park “if my right to defend myself is taken away.”

Seattleite John Ammeter told Gun Week, “I see no difference between carrying on city streets, countryside hikes and carrying in national parks. I carry a firearm for self-protection and there are dangers inherent in every location. . . . I’ll be retiring in a few months and moving out of the city and into a home on the edge of a park. Why should a line on a map dictate where I may carry a firearm?”

From Ogden, UT, Robert Disque weighed in, noting, “The CCW ban by federal regulation should be abolished. . . . I should not be expected to leave my right of self protection, and the tools to accomplish (that), at the park door.”

Other gunowners insisted they will carry inside the parks because there are no police to protect them. One police officer who wished to remain anonymous suggested that if someone decides to exercise his or her rights, they should do it discreetly.

Dangers Detailed
What makes the park lands so dangerous? According to the PRL survey, plenty.

Organ Pipes, for example, is rated as the worst park because of the heavy traffic in drug smuggling and illegal aliens. After the murder of NPS Ranger Kris Eggle in August 2002, the park service temporarily bolstered its manpower with tactical teams, but they have since been removed. NPS has “failed to restore staff levels to previous levels,” the PRL lamented.

Eggle was killed in the line of duty as he assisted the US Border Patrol in pursuit of fugitives from Mexico. Eggle, only two months before his death, had received the class nomination for the Director’s Award as the outstanding ranger in his class at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.

The report stated that “the park is still swarming with potentially violent smugglers of drugs and illegal aliens, and possible threats to homeland security.”

Amistad is “another smuggler’s paradise,” the PRL said. “Seven rangers attempt to hold the line on 85 miles of an international border,” the report states. “With days off, it means that only one or two are on at any given hour of the day, and at night, the park is turned over to the smugglers.”

Big Bend National Park rangers, said the PRL report, are “ordered by management to allow illegal aliens into the country, and to avoid the border area entirely if crime is suspected.”

At Lake Mead along the Arizona-Nevada border, the problem is drunk drivers, drunken boaters and Las Vegas gang members. There is no law enforcement at night, despite the fact that this is the only national park with its own armored car, the PRL said.

Arizona’s Coronado is “a small park with a very big problem of drugs, smugglers and a staff too small to make a difference,” the report said.

Florida’s Biscayne National Park is also the scene of drug smuggling, illegal fishing and a nearby nuclear power plant that is a potential terrorist target, according to the PRL.

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia has an “understaffed ranger workforce” that is “coping with a large number of armed poachers and encroaching suburban crime.” The PRL asserted that the ranger staff at Shenandoah “has been cut in violation of NPS policy, without public outcry or repercussions from Washington.”

Delaware Water Gap along the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border has lost many rangers in the past several years. Only one or two are on patrol at night, and they have allegedly been instructed to avoid high crime areas, the report asserted.

New Jersey’s Edison National Historic Site has experienced “a soaring murder rate (related) to gang activity” in the surrounding city.

Yellowstone made the list because this year, the entire seasonal law enforcement staff was eliminated. That left a handful of rangers to do solo patrols on the roads and very few backcountry patrols.

Dishonorable Mentions
The “Dishonorable Mentions” list includes: California’s Mojave National Preserve and Devil’s Postpile National Monument; Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico; Padre Island National Seashore in Texas; Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, and Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in Louisiana.

Kendrick contended that even with increasing budgets for NPS, the money is not going to public safety. He said the number of rangers has declined 9%.

“If we can’t protect ourselves,” Kendrick wondered, “how can we protect park visitors and irreplaceable park resources? The answer is we can’t.”

If that’s the case, why shouldn’t legally-licensed citizens be able to carry concealed handguns for their own protection in a national park? After all, it is public property.

Powell, with the NPS, could not offer an answer. He acknowledged that “some of these parks are dangerous.”

“It is not a pretty picture sometimes,” he said.

For a look at the full report, log onto the Internet at: www.rangerfop.com/danger03.htm.

To contact Interior Secretary Gale Norton, write to: 1849 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20240, or visit their website at: www.doi.gov.

The National Park Service website is: www.nps.gov. Their mailing address is the same as that for the Interior Department.
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