May 6, 2000


"John Jones is a willing seller. He didn't want to sell and held out as long as he could. First the Park Service came in and purchased the homes, farms and timberlands of his neighbors who did want to sell. There will always be some. Then the agency began to search out those families who were in some kind of financial distress such as from a death, divorce, loss of job and other reason.

"Jones watched as his community was checkerboarded by the Park Service. He remembered being told when the park was created that he would not be forced out. But now the agency was targeting local businesses and the county itself. Many small businesses were purchased and put out of business. The Park Service purchased the holdings of several large timberland companies. Smaller timber owners began to sell as they saw that the logging infrastructure might eventually not be there. The mill eventually had to close because it could not get enough wood. Like a natural ecosystem, the economic ecosystem of a community is very fragile.

"As more timberland was purchased, more homes and farms began to disappear. Many residents wanted to hold out but with fewer jobs in the county, the value of their homes and property began to go down. As the Park Service purchased them, they lay empty for months or even years because the agency said they did not have the funds to clear them out. They became havens for vandals and drug houses.

"The Nature Conservancy and other land trusts began to circle like buzzards. They would buy from financially distressed landowners, then turn the land over to the Federal government. Time after time this happened, quietly, secretly and silently they helped undercut the community.

"As properties were taken off the tax rolls, the schools and county services began to suffer. Several closed making longer trips to school necessary for families. The school district didn't have the money for the busses they needed. Roads began to close. As large areas were purchased by the Park Service, the agency put up chains across the roads. Some of these roads had been used for years by neighbors as access points to the river or to go camping, swimming, woodcutting or berry picking. Usually we knew another way but over time, all the access was closed off.

"Churches, clubs and other community services began to close. The Rotary Club couldn't keep enough members. The library was in trouble. The hours were cut for it and other county services. There had been several markets in town and three gas stations. There is only one of each now and it looks like the store will close. That means a 80 mile drive to Millersville for groceries. Over time, other essential services and stores began to disappear.

"When the park was created they promised tourism. I don't know where it is. We gave up a lot of good jobs for this park and the tourists don't come. Several motels and restaurants were built in anticipation of the visitors. All but one restaurant is closed, and it cut its hours back. We have two motels still open but they are struggling.

"We have a very nice ski area but a Park Service trail runs through it. The agency has harassed the owners so often that they're close to giving up. They can't get any kind of commitment from the Park Service as to a final trail location so they can't invest in modernizing and expanding the ski area. There sure are a lot of people in town who would benefit if the ski area were allowed to meet its potential.

"We thought the Park Service supported recreation. Now it seems the opposite is true. We heard from people out West that the Park Service and the environmental groups were becoming anti-recreation. It couldn't be true we said. It looks like we were wrong. They seem to be against skiing and snowmobiling. Snowmobiles are being kicked out of all parks. It doesn't make sense.

"The county had no choice but to raise our taxes. The tax base for the county was shrinking almost daily. We had one local bank and several bank branches. Now there is only one branch open as part of the market, but it may go away too. The banks have not made loans in our town for several years now because the future is unstable. They won't make loans to loggers, equipment suppliers, or small businessmen because of threat from the Feds. No new houses have been built in some time. The theater closed and the cable television company is considering shutting down. It feels like a ghost town.

"We always thought we could fall back on our farmers and ranchers. But as farmland was purchased, more and more farmers began to leave. Their kids didn't see any reason to stay. There aren't enough farmers now to support the supply store and the farming infrastructure and other needs. The farmers have to drive so far to get services that it just doesn't make sense. More and more are selling.

"It's ironic. When the park was proposed there was a big land acquisition fund before Congress at about the same time that included some funding for recreation. Many county commissioners supported it because they wanted money for soccer fields and swimming pools. Now they see they've lost their tax base and have trouble finding the resources to maintain those assets. The population has changed so much they may not even need them soon.

"Surprisingly, even homebuilders and realtors supported the land acquisition funding originally as well as the park. They really thought the tourism would come and provide an economic boom. Now they see they don't have a market anymore and most people have been driven to the city. The land acquisition has sucked the vitality right out of the community. But it's too late to go back.

"Frankly, it seems like most of these big organizations like the realtors and homebuilders and even the county commissioners are controlled by hired guns from the big cities so I'm not sure they really care about what happens in our community. And our local county commissioners are so busy they hardly have time to go to all the meetings as the planners from the Federal government come and take over the process.

"The Government even wants a buffer zone around the park now and is trying to close down the roads and access to the National Forests. What a difference between now and when I was growing up. So many places we used to enjoy are either owned by the government or regulated so tightly you can't go there or use them.

"The hunters and sportsmen really got a surprise. They supported all the land acquisition only to find that they lost access to many places. And frankly, game was more plentiful on the land when it was private. I've never been convinced these hot shot fancy education government officials knew much about protecting wildlife. I know we had better hunting around here before all the private lands were taken by the government, especially when tree harvesting was taking place.

"Some of my neighbors are determined to stay and suffer the consequences and severe hardships of living within a now nearly all Federal enclave. I love my town. I was born and raised here, went away to college and came back. It looks like that even though I stood up to those Federal land acquisition agents, there will soon be nothing left to stand up for. I never thought I'd be a willing seller. But I am now."

"This is a composite of experiences from landowners who have been forced to sell their property against their will."


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