A letter to the Superintendent of Zion National Park sent today from yours truly:
Dear Superintendent Whitworth,
I'm writing to relate an incident that occurred at your campground this week that gives me cause for concern.
For years now when visiting friends that stay in your campground, it is my usual custom to come to a full stop at the fee station gate where you have two red stop signs and then make some sort of eye contact with the ranger in the booth, so that they can ascertain that I am in full possession of my faculties and know why I am choosing to proceed further along on life's path. The rangers have always politely nodded back and on I would go.
My impression has always been that stopping to talk to the ranger was for people who needed to register or wanted information. As a former ranger the last thing I ever want to do is bother them, especially when I know what I am doing and where I am going. This is how I have respectfully entered your campground for years and have never had a problem with anyone.
On this most recent visit I got about 20 feet from the stop signs when I heard the ranger in the booth yell loudly for me to stop. I stopped and rolled down my window and asked what it was that she wanted. She said I needed to back up right away and talk to her. When I asked why I needed to do that, she said that I couldn't go any further without her approval. I told her I was visiting friends that were staying in this particular campground and had done nothing wrong, so I saw no need to back up at this very moment. I was then told I had better or else!
So I backed up and was told that I couldn't just drive into the campground without telling her who, where and how long I was planning to visit. When I told her that I didn't really think that it was any of her business, I could tell that she did not like my answer. I then asked her on what government authority she was empowered to ask me personal questions concerning my visit to a public campground?
I now ask you Mr. Whitworth, under what statutes of the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) was this fee ranger acting under to ask me these questions? I told her it was quite enough information that I was visiting friends who occupied a legal & fully paid for site, that I had a valid park pass, was a local and former employee and that was all she need know.
The answer I received was that she didn't know what the CFR said about her authority, but that it was an obvious "security" issue, and that I was going to have to tell her what she wanted to know or I could proceed no further. When I balked at this she gestured to her co-worker to call a law enforcement ranger. I then hastily said that would be unnecessary and told her who, where and why I was visiting and for how long just to pacify her and so as not to get tangled up in some dumb mess and take resources away from real law enforcement affairs. She then issued me a "security" pass to enter the campground.
15 minutes later a park ranger patrol car pulled up to the site where I was visiting, much to the embarrassment of myself and to those I was visiting. The law enforcement ranger told me that he was called by the fee ranger in the booth to come and make sure I knew that in the future I was to stop at their station and give them whatever information they wanted. When I explained that I had not meant any disrespect to anyone, but was merely doing what I had routinely done to enter in the past, he replied that the fee rangers had a "pet-peeve" about people driving through, including employees and locals, without stopping and checking in with them.
If that is the real reason Mr. Whitworth, or at least a contributing factor, this sounds far more like a problem of bad employee morale than one of an implemented federal security plan. I don't appreciate public employees using their power to capriciously violate my personal privacy just because they may be frustrated in their jobs. I also don't like being quizzed about my personal business in the name of, so called, "security". If you didn't know it already, this is a very sore issue between we the citizens and you the federal government!
If this change in the wind, so to speak, is really a part of beefed up security measures there should be some visible signage or press release available explaining under what provisions of the law or Patriot Act you are using to screen entry into an unfenced multi-access public campground in the heart of a busy national park town.
It seems to many of us that the NPS just isn't the same old relaxed and friendly agency it once was.
I look forward to a dialogue on this matter.
I'll let you know what they say. You can probably guess for yourself already.