Satan, Senators, and State Parks

Summer is the time to get out and enjoy the state parks — particularly if you’re in Wisconsin, because there’s no telling how much longer some of them are going to be around.

The family at Copper Falls State Park in Northern Wisconsin. The state couldn't kill the park through mining permits, so it looks like it's trying through defunding.

Our family at Copper Falls State Park in Northern Wisconsin. The state couldn’t kill the park through mining permits, so it looks like it’s trying through defunding.

Sound exaggerated?  Consider that Alabama has reckoned on closing 15 of its state parks, leaving only seven for the public to enjoy. Given that Wisconsin will remove all tax support for the parks, it’s reasonable to assume that some, if not many, of our 50 or so* state parks won’t be open when the next legislatively manufactured budget “crisis” rolls around in two years.

It’s crucial to note that the seven parks that would survive Alabama’s short-sighted proposal are those that have “consistently made a profit” over a three-year period, according to the state parks director.

I’m sure Wisconsin’s so-called leadership believes it originated the idea of linking park availability to their profitability, but that particular disease has long infected the enemies of publically funded services and facilities for everyday working people. As John Muir noted about parks in his classic book Yosemite, many see value only where there is a tree to be cut for wood or bucks to be otherwise made:

Nevertheless, like anything else worth while, from the very beginning, however well guarded, they have always been subject to attack by despoiling gain-seekers and mischief-makers of every degree from Satan to Senators, eagerly trying to make everything immediately and selfishly commercial, with schemes disguised in smug-smiling philanthropy, industriously, sham-piously crying, “Conservation, conservation, panutilization,” that man and beast may be fed and the dear Nation made great. — John Muir

Everybody needs “beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike,” Muir also argued.

If Madison’s mischief-makers have their way, only the rich will have such places, as the rest of us won’t be able to afford them and the state won’t open our own lands to us.  We should remember that they are indeed ours.

The inane idea that parks should be profitable — that their value can be measured strictly in bottom-line dollar figures — is one the National Recreation and Parks Association has long attempted to counter. Like Muir’s before, the NRPA’s arguments make sense, which is to say that they likely would hold no currency in Wisconsin.

There is some indication that people in Alabama at least have some good sense.  The state delayed its initial closures after a public outcry, which should remind us that we also can, as individuals, make a difference.

At least in theory.  Remember, these are Wisconsin legislators we’re dealing with.  At times, it seems nothing short of an exorcism will purge our home of the destructive forces emanating from Madison.

 * Apparently folks count parks differently; the official Wisconsin web site for finding parks lists 50 of them under a pull-down menu for parks, but this article from Madison.com notes that there are 46.

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