YOSEMITE — Dozens of volunteers have willingly descended on trails and walkways in one of the country’s busiest national parks to make sure that Yosemite remains pristine and beautiful through the government shutdown.
Park employees, residents and volunteers from around the area turned out in droves today to pick up trash all along the public areas, even as park officials announced additional areas inside the park boundaries would be temporarily closed in light of the shutdown which began at midnight EST on Saturday, Dec. 22.
With concessionaire Aramark footing the bill to make sure that the bathroom facilities are clean and the trash is taken away, and volunteers patrolling the roads, trails, parking areas and campgrounds, the visitor experience in Yosemite is being kept to a very high standard by people who treasure the park. Many of the bathrooms in the park appear to be open, clean and stocked.
Wednesday morning, Jan. 2, Yosemite National Park officials announced that more areas of the park were being closed due to issues with “trash and human waste.”
After hearing all the dire news, we wanted to see for ourselves, so we took a trip up to the park and, ultimately, uncovered none of the disastrous trash heaps and human feces that have been reported, thanks to an enthusiastic group of volunteers. In fact, the weather is beautiful, the sky is clear, and it was a great time to visit.
Included in the park’s announcement this morning was the news that anyone wishing to ski or access the Valley for sightseeing will need to go through Mariposa and enter on Highway 140 for the time being. Only residents and those with reservations are being allowed in the south gate.
Meanwhile, several groups of volunteers have taken on the task of cleaning up common public areas. Ten adults and one child were busy placing trash in bags at Chinquapin Junction and doing litter patrol at the turnouts below Badger Pass.
Volunteer Holly Webb, who manages two private homes available for rental inside the park, says all the people in her group are residents of Yosemite West.
“We were worried that the park would be completely shut down like Sequoia if conditions worsen, so we wanted to do our part and take some of the pressure off,” said Webb.
She also noted that they had only encountered one instance of human waste, and some dog excrement. Mostly they’ve found lunch trash and typical human detritus including diapers, flip flops, baby socks and a bunch of beer bottles carelessly tossed in a fire pit.
According to Webb, as far as rule-breaking is concerned, volunteers have mostly witnessed visitors in violation for taking their dogs on trails where dogs are not allowed.
Webb’s group also walked from Camp 4 to lower Yosemite Falls, collecting one large trash bag full of improperly disposed items such as candy wrappers and tissue. She says another group met this morning in front of the Village Store to police the areas near the ice skating rink, Half Dome Village (formerly Camp Curry) and Bridalveil.
They planned next to head for the Wawona area. Working nearby was Yuli Gotzev, of the Redwoods in Yosemite. Yuli took time to pick up a bag of trash from the Mariposa Grove parking lot and the south gate entrance, and found only a modest amount.
With the light traffic and plenty of parking, and good-hearted volunteers working tirelessly, it was a beautiful sunny day in Yosemite with people enjoying the iconic views.
Work continues to stabilize the slope left denuded of vegetation from the Ferguson fire, and currently there’s a roughly ten-minute delay north of Chinquapin as this work is completed. There was also a short delay on the western end of the Valley, on the road leading from the north to the south loop road, as hazard trees were removed.
Exploring further, we found that Yosemite concessionaire Aramark has entered into an agreement to pay Park employees to maintain the bathrooms and deal with trash collection at several areas in the park, including Chinquapin and the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area formerly known as Badger Pass.
At Bridalveil Fall the parking lot was full, the restrooms were closed, and trash has been picked up and hauled away. The restrooms next to the Visitor Center at the head of the Valley are open.
Dillon Engstrom works at the Ansel Adams Gallery, where employees who so desired were given two hours of their work time to go out and clean up trash.
Dillon walked from lower Yosemite Falls, west around the cut-off road and back to the gallery, finding only a minimal amount of debris.
It wasn’t just Yosemite residents and employees who were taking care of business today. Emily Jones and Jim Pence of Greeley Hill were pitching in, as well. Jim lived in the Park for thirteen years while his dad managed the medical center.
Organized by Dakota Snider, the clean-up in the Valley attracted about fifty people first thing this morning but Pence believes that number increased as more people arrived to help.
Leaving the park via Highway 41, where the entry is currently manned by law enforcement rangers, we made a stop in Wawona and found that more volunteers were taking care to put trash in its proper place. This included young Sloane and Kiernan Upton-Albright from Fish Camp who, with their mom, saw an appeal on social media and decided to come join in.
At least for now it’s clear that, while the government shutdown continues, we can count on local citizens to help maintain the park, providing that all visitors respectfully follow the forest’s golden rules: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” and “Pack it in — pack it out!”