No comments yet

Symington’s Civil War in the Grand Canyon

Now that the 2013 federal government shutdown is over and the community and country has finished a collective sigh of relief, perhaps now we can talk about the lighter side of government shutdowns.  This time around, many of us that work within some of the major parks were given slightly earlier relief as a result of states working with the Department of Interior to pony up their own funds in order to keep the park open.

A similar situation as this came about during the ’95-’96 shutdown in Arizona, where during the second of the two shutdowns during that fiscal year, the state of Arizona paid the Park Service to leave a small portion of the park open, namely the lookouts along route 64 on the South Rim.  This time around the state funding solution was reached through continuous lobbying from throughout the affected outfitting and tourism community and members of government whom had those interests in mind.  The governors were civil and worked with the Park Service from the get go, in 95′-96′ it wasn’t quite so cordial.

Governor Symington III

On November 14th, 1995, Grand Canyon National Park closed for the first time in its history due to a federal government shutdown.  The Arizona governor at the time, Fife Symington III, was not willing to take the closure of a place of such importance to his state lying down.  Not soon after the shutdown occurred and the closure of Grand Canyon was announced, Governor Symington was quoted as saying “Grand Canyon must reopen, by force if necessary.”

The governor’s threat was not an empty one and by the morning of November 16th, an Arizona National Guard convoy was mobilized and heading north towards the South Rim, accompanied by the Governor and his aides, the speaker of the Arizona state house, members of the Department of Public Safety (state police), state park employees, and, of course, members of the media.  Symington’s intention was to place the park under state control and reopen it with state employees.  Superintendent Arnberger commented on this saying, “The last time a state attempted that was in 1861 and was the proximate cause of the Civil War. This last sentence was stated in just that manner to the governor when I met him and his troops at the gate of Grand Canyon National Park.”

This action, at the beginning, was more than just a statement.  Park employees later reported DPS officers requesting information concerning communications within the park, including the locations of radio repeater sights, information the park’s employees refused to share.  Furthermore, then speaker of the Arizona state house, Mark Killian, when asked what the course of actions would be if NPS refused to accept state assistance, said the state would “bring in the National Guard and DPS, push down the bar and take over.”

The situation was diffused quickly when the Clinton Administration threatened to federalize the Arizona National Guard, something that had not been done since 1957, when Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard to protect black students attending Little Rock Central High School.

Though his plan of taking over the park didn’t quite work out, it could be said the if it wasn’t for Symmington’s recalcitrant attitude we may not have had the precedent in place this time around for the states to pony up the funds and get the parks open on their own.

Post a comment