An NPS employee sent this letter to the Coalition, asking us to share it widely. He writes, “what is especially damaging and demoralizing is that the employees of the Park Service are not considered to be strong enough justification to shut down, despite what they are repeatedly saying to their leadership. The call to close parks is not being addressed quickly enough – which is why we need to advocate for ourselves and our families.”
We shared the letter with the Washington Post, who published this story. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/03/26/coronavirus-national-parks/
Here is the letter, in its entirety.
I work for the National Park Service as a Field Supervisor. On most days I am a person who loves their job and who has been committed to the NPS mission since 2001 when I began my career and I believe my track record reflects that passion for the Parks. I actually feel like I have the best job in the world and that I work with best people. I am not a disgruntled employee and for those that know me professionally I think they would describe me as a good leader who supports and advocates for employee safety and development. I always strive to be a piece of the solution and appreciate the employees I have led through the years who give 100% day in and day out in supporting the NPS mission, I know there are many people out there at all levels and divisions that are also giving their best towards the same mission. My cap is off to them and I only encourage them to keep it up. It is not in my nature to be taking the measure I am currently taking in writing this type of a letter but as a leader I currently feel compelled to use my voice to alert people to the irresponsibility presently being perpetrated by our “leaders”. I realize at this point in writing this it could have a significant effect on my professional career if anyone chose to dig deeper into my anonymous letter but I can no longer be silent on this stage and if you are reading this then you know I have come to peace with this risk.
Over the past several weeks we have seen both large and small communities, schools, and various levels of government taking proactive and decisive actions to protect its people by shutting down in an attempt to get ahead of the Covid 19 pandemic. As a country we have declared a national emergency. These responsible methods and reasonable disruptions serve to protect our society and the most vulnerable people therein. I do not wish to be tone deaf in this and fully realize the implications that such closures have on our local and national economies. My heart is with those people as well as I know many of them personally. During these difficult times I intend to turn my attention towards my community and neighbors in helping to do my part to get through these coming weeks. As citizens I believe this is where our attention and efforts need to be directed. What we have not seen is our Departmental and Agency Management taking the lead they need to take to protect their employees or the health and well-being of the general public who are still pouring unto our federal lands in huge numbers. Our employees, regional offices, and local park leadership are being forced into difficult and untenable positions and while it is being stated publicly that Superintendents and Park Managers have the authority to close their parks it should also be known that they are having to provide to “really strong justifications” (from an anonymous park superintendent) to Washington. This approach is time consuming when time is of the essence and devastating to employees on the front lines. It is a passive approach that relies on the surrounding community or state governments to dictate the actions of the parks when the parks need to be given the authority to lead their communities. What is especially damaging and demoralizing is that the employees of the Park Service are not considered to be strong enough justification to shut down despite what they are repeatedly saying to their leadership. Employees are being tested for Covid 19 Virus but these exposure scares and close calls still are not enough to say our employees are important and it is the common belief of employees that work will not stop until someone actually has a confirmed case. It is a terrible position to be in.
I would like to thank the Parks and Superintendents who have made the responsible decisions to close your facilities and swing your gates to protect your people. You will never know what an important decision this is and the amount of anxiety and fear you have relieved for those people in your parks. There are many of us still living in hellish tension and many times I have been moved to tears because of this deep and heavy weight. That type of Park leadership should be commended for actually leading and making the morally right decisions in a difficult time. Your employees are home with their families as they should be. Thank you to the local officials throughout the country who are leading like the Mayor of Estes Park, Colorado for being advocates and prioritizing the health of your communities above all else. Thank you for leading the way while other parks have been slow to act. Viruses do not recognize politics, timelines, boundaries, or bureaucracy and by the time we see our first cases it will already be too late and will lessen our ability to shut down in a responsibly manner. The Department of the Interior and specifically Secretary Bernhardt are putting us all at risk by this negligent approach. There are still many parks that are fully open to the public and employees’ strong commitment to the mission is being used against them by our chain of management up to and including the departmental level. You will hear leadership say that if employees do not feel safe than they should stay home but those employees are being asked to take their own leave and this is not always a viable option for extended absences and that leave may be even more critical to have in the coming weeks as this virus runs its course. Newer employees are afraid to say no despite their fears. In the case of one Park Guide, at an unnamed smaller park who is stationed at Visitor Center that remains open is afraid if she refuses to report to there could potentially be retribution. We as the employees who patrol the roads, handle emergency calls, clean restrooms, clear trails, and educate visitors have repeatedly expressed that we do not feel safe being in the field, sometimes desperately and angrily. In many instances we have not even had the basic training or had the minimum CDC required safety equipment to perform the duties we are being sent out to do in these hot zones. Employees have most definitely had opportunities to be exposed and are potentially still being exposed to this virus daily in our parks. I know if this has happened at my park it is also happening in other places throughout the Park Service and I know of firsthand accounts that employees have not been informed of the most basic protections or have not been informed until very recently. This is a grievous breach in safety and responsibility. The safety equipment we do have is being used in order to clean restrooms right now when there are shortages of this critical gear being reported all over the United States by our front line medical professionals who out of desperation are having to reuse their own safety gear against CDC recommendations. These people performing truly life and death jobs need to be our priority. If we do not protect our most critical people in this crisis then we are contributing to the problem, I have friends who are nurses and doctors, health care workers and emergency responders and I want to keep them safe as well as they have a very daunting task ahead. I would much rather this NPS safety equipment be donated to those who will potentially have to stand toe to toe with the sick at great personal peril and witness firsthand the grim realities of this pandemic. Rocky Mountain National Park has again shown leadership in donating surplus N-95 face masks to their local emergency response organizations and they should be commended by all for their responsible decisions. We need to encourage our other parks to do the same.
The call to close parks is not being addressed quickly enough which is why we need to advocate for ourselves and our families. Our employees are fearful of bringing this sickness into their homes and threatening the lives of the most high risk among us. We have called on our local constituents here to be advocates for us when our individual parks have not heeded the call and that has made a difference because our own Agency and Department have been deaf to those pleas. For those of your already in quarantine and responsibly self-distancing please become advocates for us and the communities surrounding our Parks. Right now the Parks remain open and the users currently in them are members of our society that also need to be protected whether they realize it or not, their actions are endangering themselves and the whole. I understand the importance of the Parks and open space and can say with pride that I do truly believe the National Park Service to be America’s best idea however when people come to the parks they congregate and it is naïve to say and think otherwise, Parks have overcrowding issues even during the best of times and certain parks like Shenandoah, the Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, and Arches to name but a few are struggling to manage their crowds and even outside on their most popular trails it is not uncommon to see thousands of people a day. Social distancing is not an option. The parking lots are jammed packed with cars and with visitors and you cannot trust the public to take the CDC requirements seriously, parks are being overwhelmed and over run and more and more employees are taking leave and refusing to come to work.
The policies of waving entrance fees in Parks have only exacerbated these issues and it is imperative that this careless approach is remedied. I no longer know what to do to help the NPS employees I care for so much as my official channels have been exhausted. At this point I am turning to the good will and altruism of the NPS advocates everywhere and to appeal to the American people. I am asking for a grassroots effort and for you to use your voice to rally your friends, your families, and your communities. Our leadership needs to know we feel abandoned and discarded, anxious and unimportant. Our morale continues to plummet and that confidence in our leadership has all but eroded. For the first time in my career I am truly embarrassed and ashamed to wear the Arrowhead of the green and gray and that is truly heartbreaking to me. I mentioned before that I am an NPS employee but again to be clear I am not representing that agency in anyway shape or form as I speak here. In this instance I speak as a husband and a father. Other employees carry the same importance to their families, friends, and communities. I know some may question my motivations in all this and some may totally disagree with me and I am ok with that and have also resolved that I may carry a stigma with me the rest of my career if my anonymity is compromised but I have decidedly come to the conclusion that I am ok with this because this is far larger than I am. I also realize daily how truly blessed and fortunate am because I still have my health. My motivation lies in wanting to do the right thing for the employees that do not feel empowered or feel as though they have no voice, or are using that voice but having it repeatedly ignored, it really is that simple. I am not doing this for notoriety or personal gain. I am prioritizing my health, my family, and my community even if others I count on to have my best interest in mind do not prioritize it. Please feel free to distribute this message on social media and any other media platform for that matter, please reach out to your local officials and government representatives and encourage them to advocate for their people. Uncommon times call for uncommon measures and it is disheartening that this is the way things are in the NPS during this national emergency while entire states and communities are closing their doors. I am not an alarmist or a conspiracy theorist, but it is important that we shut down to limit the danger and spread of Covid 19 and in doing so know we are doing the right thing for our employees. When we do close those gates we need to do so in a responsibly and orderly way. In advocating for this I believe I am still fulfilling the NPS mission to protect our most important resource in our people for this generation and the next.
Please stay safe,