After facing accusations of resorting to what some have called “gestapo tactics,” the National Park Service (NPS) might be loosening its grip on concessionary businesses on federal land. Today, employees at the Pisgah Inn in North Carolina and volunteers at the Claude Moore Farm in Virginia are back to work after several days of forced closures.
“We have no idea why the NPS changed its mind,” Anna Eberly, managing director of Claude Moore Farm, wrote yesterday on the farm’s website. “Obviously, the decision would not have been reversed without the news coverage, forwarded emails, blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and personal appeals from all of you.”
The farm supports itself on money from entrance fees and educational activities, and claims it is “the only National Park run by a non-profit organization.” But the living history farm in McLean, Va., that depicts life in 1771 had to close because it sits on federal land.
Last week, the Park Service barricaded the owners inside the farm, and threatened to block volunteers and staff from entering. Eberly said the federal agency didn’t harass anyone, but refused to let them open.
“We believe, according to our lease with the National Park Service, that we have both a right and a duty to be open to the public,” she said.
Earlier today, Park Service employees removed the white barriers blocking access to the farm. They gave no explanation. The farm will re-open and attempt to recover the money it lost during the shutdown.
“As we say in the 18th century, ‘Hip, Hip, Huzzah,’” Eberly wrote.
The Pisgah Inn, another business that faced financial losses over the shutdown, also reopened today. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Interior allowed owner Bruce O'Connell to reopen his iconic business on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, just west of Asheville, N.C., when he dropped a legal complaint he had filed.
“We are open for business as usual,” Janet Mann, spokeswoman for the Pisgah Inn, told me.
Park Service rangers have been blocking the entrance to the inn since Oct. 3, two days after the partial government shutdown went into effect. The parkway, which is not owned by the Park Service, remained open. All the concessionary businesses, even though they are privately run, had to close.
After being closed for several days, O’Connell defied rangers on Friday, reopening his shops and restaurant at noon. The stand lasted only about two hours before he had to close his doors again during his peak tourism season. USA Today reported disgruntled diner Baird Lefter saying: “If they were government employees, they’d get back pay when the government re-funded. They are just being shut out of work. And if they haven’t closed the parkway, why should they close the concessions?”
As food at the inn grew more stale, outrage on social media exploded. O’Connell told The Asheville Citizen-Times he had received countless encouragements from conservatives and liberals: “The all have said the same thing, every one of them. Don’t give up. Fight tyranny.”
After re-opening, O’Connell was not available for comment, but Mann read a statement from him: “He wants to go back to being an innkeeper of a little inn in the mountains. He wants to go back to flipping eggs and making beds. He’s appreciative and thankful for everyone’s support.”