Wednesday, December 31, 2003

This thread over at led me to this story. It's about a family that goes by the surname of Pilgrim.

In summation they moved to Alaska for religious & ideological reasons. They simply wanted to live a very simple life away from the influence of modern society. They Found some land in McCarthy, Alaska & thought they'd found their promised land.

Enter the Federal Government.

The land they purchased is about 14 miles inside a National Park. The National Park Service is harassing them because they attempted to use a bulldozer to maintain the road that leads from their property to the outside world.

The Pilgrim family is trying to go through the proper legal channels. But as it stands now, the only access to their property is by snowmobile, horse & airplane. That's 14 miles by snowmobile, horse or airplane.

Sure, riding snowmobiles & horses is fun. But try it for 14 miles hauling supplies with ya. & planes can get expensive, not to mention a bit risky. One plane has crashed already trying to get supplies to the Pilgrim family.

."A key point of argument was the law that the Pilgrims have learned to pray about: RS 2477, an 1866 mining statute getting new attention as a way for states to claim historic rights of way across federal land.
'It took me so long to memorize those numbers, two four seven seven,' Papa Pilgrim said. The next moment he was describing his case with all the savvy of a veteran land-rights lobbyist.
'I have a whole map of all the 2477s in Alaska,' he said. 'We're simply using what's been here 100 years. This road is a perfect example of a 2477 right of way."

Now the state government of Alaska is generally supportive of having road access into & across federal land. But they aren't doing much on behalf of the Pilgrim family because they feel the use of a bulldozer will generate negative PR & thus the Pilgrims aren't the State's ideal test case

"The Murkowski administration is eager to press its RS 2477 claims with a friendly Bush administration. Unfortunately for the Pilgrims, the state would prefer to establish precedents without generating headlines about bulldozers in national parks.
'I am going to be the last one to argue they shouldn't have the right to go back and forth to their land,' said Murkowski aide Jack Phelps. 'But it's not a good test case for RS 2477, and that's why we've been fairly low key."

But what really should get your attention is the way the NPS has handled things. According to the Pilgrims they were merely maintaining a road that had been in existence for about 100 years. The Park Service claims that their bulldozer wandered off the road in a few places, & that part of their cabin & about an acre of oats was located on National Park land instead of their property. So we have a few things that the Pilgrims may have been in error on. & one would think it would be easily corrected.

Remember though, the NPS is a federal agency & they have a reputation to live up to.

"The Pilgrims might even have gotten a permit to run a bulldozer seasonally up the old road, since any lesser vehicle couldn't make the dozen or more crossings of the boulder-strewn stream, said Sharp, the chief ranger."

Seems here the Park Service is admitting that a bulldozer was a necessity, doesn't it? But like a lot of other necessities they must be government approved.

"Finally this summer, with the Pilgrims still insisting they had needed no permits, the Park Service got tough. Park officials said their patient, nice-guy approach seemed to be encouraging the Pilgrims to break other park regulations."

Well, first of all when the hell did requiring a permit for a necessary activity constitute being nice? Especially when there's a dispute about the legality of requiring said permit?

"Surveyors flown in by the park in June found that two-thirds of the family's cabin was over the five-acre parcel's line -- the kitchen's cookstove was in the national park. The family had also cleared an acre or so of alder to plant oats in what proved to be the park.
The Pilgrims blame Wigger, saying he assured them the buildings were on private property. Wigger says they never asked. He says the lines were always vague, based on long-lost corners, and the house was built on I-beam skids so it could be moved."

Again, this seems like something that could be chalked up to a misunderstanding of the property lines on the Pilgrim family's part. Move the cabin & oat field & the problem would be solved right?

"Ironies multiplied. The federal survey's lines, cut with chain saws, left a highly visible rectangle in the woods of the national park. And with Wigger's bulldozer padlocked, the family had no way to skid their building onto their property."

Well I guess padlocking the bulldozer would make moving the cabin a bit trickier now wouldn't it?

"For two weeks in late August, park biologists and other specialists were helicoptered daily to the Pilgrims' site and followed the old road to assess bulldozer damage and build a civil case against the family, noting particularly where the bulldozer might have strayed off the historic right of way. Armed rangers in bulletproof vests stood nearby to keep the Pilgrim children from meddling with investigators. Both sides wielded video cameras as well. Park officials said that without guards, investigators could never discuss the case in the field because the Pilgrims were always in their midst taking pictures and notes."

Let me repeat part of that last paragraph in case y'all missed it:

"Armed rangers in bulletproof vests stood nearby to keep the Pilgrim children from meddling with investigators. Both sides wielded video cameras as well. Park officials said that without guards, investigators could never discuss the case in the field because the Pilgrims were always in their midst taking pictures and notes."

Armed park rangers to keep the children from taking pictures & notes????

"We've kind of had it. We're not going to back up and go away," Sharp said. "I represent the people of the United States, and I'm going to do my job."

If he represents the people of the United States then I'll gladly renounce my citizenship. He represents the government of the United States, which, sadly to say, is very far removed from the people. Authorizing armed agents to keep children or adults from taking pictures or notes of said agents activities is not something to be proud of. Unless you were in the Hitler Youth program.

"Joseph, 26, was cited for trespassing and vandalism, accused of breaking into the park's mine shaft after rangers chained it shut. He was written up by a ranger who staked out the mine shaft entry from a nearby ridge with binoculars. Joshua, 24, and his mother, Country Rose, were cited for leading a commercial horse trip in the park without a permit or insurance after an undercover agent contracted for a ride. Park officials say the family was warned they needed permits to work in the park, just like other McCarthy businesses."

breaking into a mine shaft on park property may be something legitimate, if the family's claims that it is a historic access point is discredited. But the latter instance sounds more like entrapment to me. Being paid to guide someone through the park on a horse doesn't exactly strike me as something the government should regulate in the first place, but aside from my free market ideas, we're dealing with a relatively poor family & I'd argue that any offer of cash for what they'd feel is a reasonable & lawful activity is not as much an indictment of the Pilgrim family's guilt as it is of the NPS's desire to discredit the family in any way possible.

BTW, if you recall the NPS is a federal agency. Care to guess how much of your tax dollars have gone to their efforts to build a case against the Pligrim family?

"Critics are calling the park's response absurd. They estimate the cost of the investigation, including helicopters and staff time, at $200,000 to $500,000. The park superintendent, Candelaria, acknowledged the cost was in that range."

$200,000 because a family used a bulldozer to maintain a road, an acre of oats was planted in the wrong place & their cabin strayed a few yards off the property line??? Wonder what they charge to prevent a rape?

"The dispute reached the public eye in early summer, with Internet alarms sent out by Kenyon and others over a park plan to dispatch a special team of armed rangers with the surveyors. The park and its critics accused each other publicly of encouraging a "Ruby Ridge" type armed showdown, with children in the line of fire.
The Park Service quickly backed down and sent in the survey team without guards, according to a June 4 park memo, to reduce risk of a confrontation 'being deliberately constructed to serve the narrow interests of some of the citizens of McCarthy and the Hale family."

So they feel that if they sent armed guards to escort a survey team on another persons property, that could be used to serve "narrow interests" of said property owners & residents of the town? I suppose "narrow interests" means anything that the government doesn't approve of or can't get away with?

Concerning the support the Pilgrim family has received:

"They're allies of convenience,' said Sharp, the park ranger. 'I think we have people in this community who hate authority and the government. (The Pilgrims) are the poor pioneers just trying to live in the old-fashioned way. There are people who think you can drive the federal government out of here if you do this just the right way."

He wonders why people hate authority & government? He orders armed escorts for his armed Rangers, entraps the family, fines the family, & prevents them using equipment he states is necessary to travel the road to their property but yet he admits that the Pilgrims are basically good people? Are we to assume that this is the way good people must be dealt with?

"I felt like I was back in the 1800s scouting through hostile Indian territory,' Sharp said."

Ah, we see where his creed for dealing with non-government employed peoples comes from.
He made that statement after explaining that he felt the Pilgrim family members were tracking him & fellow agents. He also seemed a little surprised when he recounted how the Pilgrim family's eldest sons told him to stay off their property.

In summation, what it seems like is the NPS does have a few legitimate issues about the Pilgrim family's activities. However the NPS has a love of authority that is blinding it to the degree of seriousness to take the Pilgrim's actions as well as the appropriate responses.

They're acting like masters, not stewards.

Sadly that's all to common with government agencies - & agents.

Here's a page that has updates on the Pilgrim family's plight.

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