Home Recent Contents NPS101-Videos Contact
NPS Cuyahoga Acquisition History Embraces Home Seizures

NPS training for future acquitision

“Get what he could while the getting was good”

Erich Veyhl
June 25, 2023

The 1983 PBS Frontine episode For The Good Of All exposed the public to a typical National Park Service acquisition operation taking private homes, land, farms and business by eminent domain to replace the population with a Federal park. It sparked widespread moral outrage.

But NPS‘s own internal response A Green Shrouded Miracle: The Administrative History of Cuyahoga National Recreation Area, Ohio, produced a decade after For the Good of All to train NPS managers into the future and still unknown to the public, reveals that the ongoing internal NPS attitude does not share the public’s moral reaction. For The Good Of All has become a training film on the strategic political importance of suppressing bad publicty.

The Administrative History is astonishing and frightening in openly revealing how political the agency is, its support for condemnation of private property while trying to divert public attention away from it, its strategic collaboration with its pressure group activists, its hostility and contempt for those in its way, and the lengths it goes to in smearing its enemies. And it documents an unexpected connection to eminent domain at Acadia National Park and to Downeast Maine more than 30 years later. (For more on National Park Service political activism and collaboration with pressure groups see also “NPS planners: Don’t warn the victims”.)

The Administrative History favorably emphasized an NPS Cuyahoga official praising Bill Birdsell, the first Superintendent who executed the condemnations:

“People were screaming about it, but had Bill not taken that aggressive posture on land acquisition, I am convinced that this park never would be what it is today. I for one have been really sick and tired of hearing Birdsell bashing because it is the thing to do. I think some day people, if they understand, will thank Bill Birdsell for that very aggressive stand that he took to get what he could get while the getting was good.” [emphasis added]

The Administrative History reports in Chapter 9 on Land Acquisition:

“[NPS Director] Whalen conceded he may have helped exacerbate the situation because he took a strong stand on using the power of condemnation, especially in western parks where property owners seemingly were ‘jerking around’ NPS [sic].”

Chapter 11 on the local rebellion at Cuyahoga reveals how NPS has engaged extensively in politics and the media to undermine and disrupt people opposing the condemnations, and how it learned to collaborate with its pressure group activists to promote NPS and distract public attention from the land acquisition:

“[H]igh-visibility, special interest activities helped secure for NPS a positive image. Media coverage turned from heavily negative to predominantly positive as attention moved away from the land acquisition program.” (Emphasis added)

It favorably quotes an arrogant public letter from a park Advisory Commission member collaborating with NPS’s drive to sacrifice property owners to “save” the mission:

“The Homeowners [Association] like every other private interest group should have their story told but I am tired of hearing their lies rehashed again and again. The [Wall Street] Journal is well aware of the benefits millions of Americans will glean from the historic, scenic and natural treasures in the CVNRA. The public wants a park, they paid for a park, and by God they’re going to get a park... The National Park Service is accomplishing an impossible dream in record time and in the best interest of the public. Park Superintendent Bill Birdsell will go down in history as the hardest working, most thoughtful and talented project manager the NPS ever had. The Valley has been saved; adverse development has been stopped and cleanup has begun.”

They don’t publicly talk that way anywhere when trying to get support for new laws granting NPS more acquisition authority. But today they still follow the policy of organizing and collaboarting with their “Friends of the Park” political support groups and other lobbyists and activists — while avoiding discussion of acquisition, as if the acquisition, let alone deliberate coercive policies in the name of “For the Good of All”, is not to be considered relevant to plans for expanding NPS control.

Cuyahoga Abuse Comes to Downeast Maine

Sheridan Steele, the NPS Management Assistant to Superintendent Birdsell during the Cuyahoga condemnation controversy in the early 1980s, climbed the NPS ladder and became Superintendent of Acadia National Park in Maine from 2003-2015 where he presided over condemnation to control and force out property owners under the nationwide NPS anti-inholder policy. His goal was to purge the park of all private property inholders, which he denounced as “holes” in the park, in order to make the park what he called “whole”. Steel soon became controversial when he shut down the clam flats and evicted a generations–old traditionl family restaurant, replaced by an out of state coporation to take over the NPS concession (a private business operation by permission of NPS).

Steele is credited by the Cuyahoga Administrative History with writing the Cuyahoga Land Acquisition Plan for Superintendent Birdsell in 1980. Before being hired to assist Birdsell with acquisitions and politics, Steele is described as having been an NPS political activist as Director of the Cuyahoga Valley Park Federation, a “non–profit” political pressure group that lobbied for the NPS new park takeover and for expanded boundaries to eliminate private homes “along the periphery” in view of the park and more.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust career activist and former Executive Director Ben Emory wrote in his autobiographical account of his and the Trust’s land acquisition politics in the “non-profit” world (Sailor for the Wild, 2017) that his wife headed Friends of Acadia and that both have been close friends with “Sheridan”.

The Trust, was founded in 1970 as a tax-exempt private acquisition arm run for and by Acadia National Park before NPS had direct government acquisition authority against inholders there.

The Trust lobbied from the beginning for the expansion of Acadia through direct acquisition authorized in 1986, collaborated with NPS beginning in the mid 1980s in its actions attempting to take over the Washington County coast, was the source for the 1988 NPS Plan to take over most of Washington County, and collaborated in the planning for the later Moosehorn Wildlife Refuge expansion in the county. For years the Trust has continued to assist Acadia acquisition from landowners under the threat of government condemnation.

Emory was also on the Acadia Citizen Advisory Board that was supposed to represent local interests to the National Park Service. His book denounces citizens who had previously been skeptical of Acadia policies, though they had no veto authority, and complained that former Governor Paul LePage had removed him as state representive to the Advisory Board before he politically maneuvered his way back under a different category.

Emory reported how he, his wife, their friend Superintendent Steele, the Trust, Friends of Acadia, other officials, and other pressure and realty front groups all led by Steele and the Trust arranged the illegal 1,441 acre expansion of Acadia in 2015 outside the Congressionally established Acadia acquisition limits. Emory arranged for out-of-state Conservation Fund funding at Steele’s request. Maine Sen. Angus King quietly but without authority backed the illegal expansion then helped lead NPS’s celebration.

Emory describes the actions as part of an internal politically–planned extension of Acadia through an (unauthorized) “corridor” through downeast Maine connecting to the Maine Woods where another planned National Park is intended to take over millions of acres of private property.

When Steele retired as Acadia Superintendent in 2015 he joined the Executive Council of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees lobby promoting NPS expansion. Among other activism they lobbied for the new (2022, S.1942) National Heritage Areas system that includes aggressive land “protection” against private property with a required role for NPS in the “protection”. The Trust and National Park Service insiders are currently imposing NHA planning on the two counties of downeast Maine encompassing the entire region between Acadia and the Canadian border.

Steele’s bio publicized by the NPS retiree Coalition says nothing about Steele’s aggressive NPS acquisition and eminent domain record spanning decades, confirming only that he had begun “at Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area as a Management Assistant” and recasting his previous political activism for NPS at Cuyahoga as “worked in the private sector”.

Last Update: 12/29/23