Closing public land

A number of people have asked how the government shutdown that has closed the North Cascades and other National Parks is affecting me. In some ways, not so much. I am technically a park volunteer; luckily some of the places I want to paint and walk are on private land. On the other hand, six of my big burned tree paintings are hanging in the Golden West Visitor Center, which is now closed, so no one is seeing them. But at this last weekend’s community cider pressing, I displayed two more of the big trees, as well as the work I’ve done since I arrived three weeks ago. (See my previous post on Community.)

I felt warmly welcomed and appreciated. As a result I’ll be giving a painting lesson at the one-room K-8 school this week. So I’m serving the Stehekin Valley community if not the Park’s visitors. Though to be sure, at least one attendee I spoke with was a Pacific Crest Trail through-hiker turned back by our heavy, early snowfall.

It has also made me wonder about the meaning of “public” land: federal ownership of these jewels of our geography now means we tax-paying “owners” can’t visit them. But many of the trails and pioneer homesteads in this valley existed long before the Park received them, and the idea that something too vast to patrol or maintain is somehow closed to public access seems at least puzzling, if not a bit absurd.

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