YOSEMITE — Electronic signs leading to Yosemite National Park’s south entrance blinked with news it seemed everyone had come to dread: PARK CLOSED / DUE TO GOV’T SHUTDOWNS / THRU TRAFFIC ONLY.
Beginning Oct. 1, the United States Government partially shut down, leaving non-essential government employees without work and causing many facilities to be closed. The shutdown includes Yosemite and about 400 other National Parks. Cars, vans and tour buses were lined up at the gate going into the immensely popular park as a Park Ranger politely and repeatedly explained to shocked would-be visitors that their visit to Yosemite would certainly not be today.
Adding to the atmosphere of confusion at the entrance to Yosemite is roadside construction which continues unabated. Meanwhile, sadly resigned Park Rangers gathered belongings and cleared out of buildings just ahead of the non-essential employees furlough that kicked in at noon today.
Also available on an as-needed basis are employees from Yosemite’s concessionaire Delaware North Corporation to help direct traffic and patiently, carefully explain to frustrated and stunned tourists that they can’t continue into, for instance, Mariposa Grove.
By 11 a.m. Park Rangers and others had been forced to turn away tourists from over a dozen countries, attesting to the international popularity of Yosemite year-round.
The list of travelers denied entrance from countries other than the U.S. includes people from Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Australia, Sweden, China, Netherlands, France and Italy. At least two sets of honeymooners were turned around at the entrance.
Newlywed Italians Laura and Enrico didn’t know the looming U.S. Government shut-down would impact their trip until they got to the gate and Park Ranger Jeffrey Gardner kindly explained that they would have to turn around since they were not traveling through.
They and many others were given the suggestion to stop by Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau to find alternatives to what they’d planned for their iconic Yosemite honeymoon.
The Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau was unusually busy for this time of year, according to Communications Director Jarrod Lyman. The parking lot off Highway 41 was abuzz with tourists and inside the atmosphere was lively and hopeful as people thumbed through maps and picked out brochures directing them to other recreational activities outside Yosemite.
“It’s busier here today than it would normally be at the beginning of October as people try to figure out what to do because of the government shut down,” Lyman confirmed.
“We want people to know that if you’re already here, there are still a lot of other things to fill your time while you hopefully wait for Yosemite to open soon,” he continued.
“There’s myriad attractions here, including museums, art galleries, Bass Lake, the Sierra Vista Scenic Byway and you can still see Giant Sequoias up in Nelder Grove. You can check out the Madera Wine Trail and our restaurants. There are lots of things to see and do to fill your time while you wait for the park to reopen.”
October 1st this year is the 123rd “birthday” of Yosemite National Park, featured on the Google search doodle in poetic irony, and it’s also the beginning of a year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant.
It was the 67th birthday for British visitor to California, Robert Abraham. He and wife Bridget were unable to enter the park due to the shutdown and stopped in to check out plans at the Visitors Bureau.
“This is my birthday present?” laughed Robert, who’d lost 35 pounds and run 13 miles a day to get fit for his big trip to the U.S. When last seen, the couple was being recommended to a local brew pub to reassess the day.
While some tourists were clearly disappointed, no one seemed angry or particularly upset as they were redirected on their journeys.
Rather some international travelers expressed they were simply stunned that the government had actually shut down a National Park. Europeans repeatedly asked reporters for the reporters’ opinion of the national government in Washington, D.C., so fascinated were they by the unusual situation.
Estimates for when the government will resume operations including National Parks range from a day or two or as long as a week.
“In the meantime, keep checking back and see what’s going on and as information changes we will use our channels to get it out there,” Lyman assures visitors and locals alike.
“If you have any questions, that’s what we’re here for. Call us and we’ll answer any questions to the best of our ability and if we don’t know the answer we’ll find out from a source what the answer is and get back to you.”
Too bad we can’t say the same for the government.