It didn’t take long for some ugly side effects of the government shutdown, to manifest.
Since last Friday’s closure of all state parks, “dozens” of incidents involving vandalism and theft have been reported, says Jim Konrad, head of enforcement for the MN-DNR.
The worst case so far took place early Monday morning in Afton. A person walking their dog called authorities after seeing several cars suspiciously parked near the park gates.
Responding to the call, the Washington County Sheriff’s office apprehended 12 people (a 13th is still being sought) for burglary and vandalism.
Ransacking the admin building, the suspects stole a DVR, a bullhorn and other items. Two newer camper cabins were damaged, and one of them was spray painted with the words, “We broke in for free!”
Other parks have seen trouble too, from illegal entries to gates being pulled out of their concrete moorings.
Even a statue of Smokey the Bear was spraypainted with ‘a body part.’
Which brings us to the classless, shameless individuals who did these acts [assumedly] independent of one another, barring the 13 suspects caught at Afton.
For me, Why here? was the first question.
How could this happen in Minnesota? Here, where we boast of our bike freeways and endless trails, our 10,000-plus lakes, our pristine wilderness areas? Recognizing my own biases, it’s perhaps easier to imagine something like this in another state, where things aren’t as ‘special’ as what we have. And certainly mixed with my own confusion are feelings of anger, indignation, revulsion.
Along with of all you who feel the same way, I yearn all the more for resolution to the budget crisis. But I also pray that many will see these reckless, disrespectful acts as a wake-up call. And for that matter, an object lesson.
These vandals were not the only ones who seem to have forgotten what a treasure our natural resources are in Minnesota. There are others who would gain temporarily from putting our most precious wild places at risk; places that should forever be a legacy that gains more value over time. Yet I’ve still been rather underwhelmed by how few Minnesotans seem to be willing to challenge any potential threat.
If we overlook the fact that these areas exist today because they were fought over and protected by ordinary people who loved our Minnesota… If we forget they still need defending… we’re just like those ‘Park Closed’ signs that seem to give vandals some sense of entitlement.
I applaud the dog walker’s vigilance. For their part, they took on the responsibility to watch over ‘their’ park. May we all learn from their example. And my sympathies to the DNR staffers whose hands are likely tied in the midst of having to deal with all this.