“Oh, it’s closed?”
Eyes wide in a parody of astonishment, Shelley Dorman and Carissa Warren giggled like schoolgirls caught skipping class.
In every direction, other hikers, bicyclists, couples with pooches and families with strollers blithely did what Warren and Dorman had done: ignore the signs proclaiming that Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, like all sites run by the National Park Service, is officially closed to visitors.
Closed, it seems, is an elastic concept — easier to enforce at a tightly contained urban enclave such as the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site than at Kennesaw’s 3,000 wooded acres, crisscrossed as they are by miles of trails and a half dozen public roads.
Officially, the park service continues to take a stern line. “One should not confuse being able to get in to a park with it being open,” agency spokesman Mike Litterst said in an email Monday. “Violation of a closure notice is prohibited by the Code of Federal Regulations and is a citable offense.”
But in practice, he wrote, “how to enforce of the closure is at the discretion of each park. … With limited workforce the priorities are protection of life and property.”
Rangers are, in fact, present in some numbers at Kennesaw. Last week, they apprehended a man who was allegedly trying to sneak out of the park with a cache of plundered artifacts.
But when it came to simple trespassers, there might as well have been a flag of surrender flying over the battlefield Sunday. Gates to the auxiliary parking lot were unlocked and standing wide open, and no park personnel were in evidence to turn visitors away.
“They’re allowing us to park here,” Dorman pointed out. “They could just close the parking lot.”
By some indications, the number of visitors to the battlefield is down significantly from pre-closure levels. Deer, for instance, reportedly are venturing into the more heavily trafficked areas in far greater numbers than usual, apparently emboldened by the relative absence of two-legged intruders.
On Sunday, despite the glorious sunshine and moderate temperatures, Kathi Palmer of Acworth waited in vain for other walkers to show up for a group hike advertised on meetup.com.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Palmer fumed, referring to the partial government shutdown that has nominally closed the parks.
“They’re going to dictate what kind of light bulbs you can buy, but they can’t get it together to pass a budget. Somebody needs to turn their light on.”
Nicole Champ of Kennesaw and Emily Schlecht of Roswell said they didn’t bat an eye before stepping around the locked gate blocking one of the main trails.
“I’ve been seeing on the news that people were out here,” explained Schlecht, who was accompanied by a small brown and white dog.
Even so, Champ said, her husband refused to accompany them in their park-crashing. “He was afraid we’d get put in prison,” she said, shifting the baby she wore in a carrier on her back.
His skittishness at least guaranteed that there was someone they could count on to bail them out, she said with a chuckle.
Enforcement or no enforcement, the park service is imploring people to respect the closure notices.
“With more than 20,000 of our 23,000 employees furloughed, our limited workforce is concentrating on the protection of life and property and are enforcing the closures as necessary,” Litterst’s email said. “As always, our first priority is for the public’s safety and we are therefore asking people to respect the posted closures so that our limited staff can concentrate on protecting park resources.”
If that’s the message from Washington, the message from the park-goers to the politicians in Washington seemed equally clear: Enough shutdown, already.
“At this point,” Champ said, “it’s just embarrassing.”
Staff writer Craig Schneider contributed to this article.
ON THE CLOSURE LIST
These metro Atlanta sites operated by the National Park Service are officially closed to visitors for the duration of the partial government shutdown:
- Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
- Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
- Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site