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Park Service Attacks Pilgrim Family
18 Sep 2003
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     Is this the Park Service good neighbor program?
     The most outrageous example pending is that of the Pilgrim Family in Alaska. You may remember several e-mails in May and June regarding this family whose homestead property is 13 miles outside of McCarthy in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve.
     This is a father, mother and 15 terrific kids trying to live a subsistence lifestyle on 400 acres they purchased after the Park Service offered the previous owner a fraction of its worth.
     In May and June you received information about the Pilgrim Family in Alaska now being targeted by the Park Service. The agency is waging a war of misinformation, distortion, and worse.
     The agency is trying to starve and freeze them out, cut them off from supplies and generally create a situation where the Pilgrim family would be forced to sell out. Their home burned last spring. They are now living in temporary quarters.
     The Pilgrims are in a pressured situation because it is only possible for the Pilgrims to transport supplies up to their homestead during October and November. They requested a permit effective October 1st. At this point, they have every indication that they will get nothing.
     The family bought the property on time with assurances from the previous owner as to where the property lines were. They relied on the word of the seller and old surveys. It now appears that a portion of their house and other outbuildings are on Park Service property. The building they are using as a house is on skids and can be moved with a bulldozer.
     The Park Service flew in the previous owner who owned the bulldozer, a Mr. Wigger, to lock down the bulldozer. That means the Pilgrims cannot move the house. Why is the Park Service flying around the former owner to harass the Pilgrims? It might be the extra $100,000 it appears they have offered him if he can kill the deal with the Pilgrims.
     The trouble started with the Park Service when the Pilgrims used the bulldozer to take supplies up to their homestead on an incredibly difficult 100 year old mining and ranch road. It is clearly a right of way and even has two substantial tunnels.
     The state of Alaska has designated it an RS 2477 road but the Park Service does not acknowledge that. It has been used for many years by residents of McCarthy and elsewhere in the Wrangells up until the Park Service arbitrarily closed the road this spring. The Pilgrims did not realize that the Park Service would demand a permit for a road that they and many others had used for some time.
     The bulldozer caused minor damage with its tracks on this old road. The Park Service calls mowing down some brush and small trees that had grown up in the road as damage. In a completely unnecessary act, the Park Service mowed down a mile long strip around the Pilgrim land to do their survey.
     The Pilgrims also got crosswise with park management when they would not talk to them. They may well have made a mistake by not requesting a permit.
     But the Park Service has since carried out a mission of vengence that has included many helicopter flights with swat team members, a survey of their land, dozens of surveyors, environmental scientists and researchers to try to turn up every issue they can, whether or not it was caused by 100 years of use or by the Pilgrims.
     They also sent heavily armed swat team members to guard these investigators from this peaceful family and their 15 kids. They have hidden part of the cost by taking personnel out of other parks. One was a marine researcher from Florida. I wonder how much experience she has in the frozen north.
     The cost for this vendetta is approaching half a million dollars. You have to wonder about Park Service priorities when the agency closed the visitor information station at McCarthy this year after they said they were short of money.
     American Land Rights and others thought that we had this issue on the way to a resolution in early Summer. We got the Pilgrims to sit down with the Regional Director for the Park Service, Robert Arneberger. Unfortunately, his response was basically to urge them to drop dead.
     ALRA has raised the issue with other officials in the Bush Administration and there seems to be a glimmer of hope that the Administration may be finally taking an interest in resolving the issue. But they likely will do nothing unless the grassroots rises up to protest this kind of behavior.
     The Park Service has had enough time to resolve it. In fairness, the delay has been partially their fault, and that of the Pilgrim family. But it is now clear that the Park Service has never had any intention of solving the problem. They want to starve the Pilgrims out.
     The question is, is the Bush Administration willing to honor their commitment to the red areas on the political map or are they going to allow one of their agencies to crush a freedom loving rural family.
     If the Administration allows the Park Service to simply run over people with all kinds of inappropriate behavior, then no one who is an inholder or who lives or has property in a rural or Federal area is safe. The Federal agencies will just run amok.
     Look at http://www.landrights.org/ak you'll see a chronological list of events leading up to the present time. Read the Pilgrims personal appeal to the Superintendent. They do not have computer access at the homestead but we have put their handwritten appeal in a pdf file for you.
     But this will give you a head start. All who believe the Federal government and the Park Service are often not good neighbors will find lots of documentation in the reports information on www.landrights.org

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