An inquiry from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found an unnamed official of the National Park Service (NPS) assumed a “prominent role” in the decision to close a popular lodge on federal land, only later to buy an adjacent plot of land to build rental cabins for personal gain.
In 2014, largely on the recommendation by the unnamed NPS official, Bill Black— the former superintendent of Ozark National Scenic Riverways, located near Van Buren, Missouri—closed the Big Springs Dining Lodge and Cabins, which were run by a private concessionaire. The NPS demanded significant renovations and repairs be made before the lodge and cabins could be reopened. The Lodge remains closed. In 2015, the National Park Service official bought land adjacent to the Riverways with the intention of building rental cabins.
OIG began its investigation after being notified by a NPS ethics employee the unnamed official might have violated a federal law, “Acts Affecting a Personal Financial Interest,” which prohibits executive branch employees “from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect [their] own financial interests.”
OIG found the official in question played a prominent role in the decision to close the lodge, with Black saying he relied on the official’s knowledge of the lodge and cabins when deciding to close them. The official under investigation said he had not planned to purchase the land when recommending the lodge be closed, and the OIG ultimately concluded it lacked evidence to refute his claim.
Because of the investigation, the official reported to OIG he has decided not to build cabins on his land as previously planned.
Park Service ‘Hostile’
Although OIG found insufficient evidence of wrongdoing, William Perry Pendley, president of the Mountain State Legal Foundation, called the NPS employee’s actions “lawless” and the Park Service “hostile.”
“The lawlessness of a park official forcing the closure of a privately owned facility for his own pecuniary gain should draw further attention to the National Park Service’s notorious war on private property, both within parks, where it wars against concessionaires, to park borders, where it attempts to shut down both lawful commercial activity unrelated to the park and those Americans attempting to provide goods and services to park visitors,” Pendley said. “For NPS employees, the park boundary does not limit their demands others conform their activities to the agency’s vision of the uses to which state and private lands that adjoin the park should be put.
“It is difficult to find a federal agency more hostile to private property or the free enterprise system,” said Pendley.
Michael McGrady ([email protected]) writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Investigation of Ethical Misconduct at Ozark National Scenic Riverways,” Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of the Interior, December 14, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/summary-investigation-of-ethical-misconduct-at-ozark-national-scenic-riverways