Government shutdown at Yosemite National Park - 'Ghost park'

Fresno BeeOctober 2, 2013 

Day two of the federal government shutdown in Yosemite National Park: "Ghost park."

That description from Dan Williams -- one of about 600 Park Service employees in Yosemite furloughed since Tuesday -- was a surprising revelation, even for him.

Williams talked about what a normal day in Yosemite Valley should have looked like: bustling with people and activity.

"Just last weekend in the park, there were Yosemite Conservancy programs going and hikes and people all over the place," Williams said. "In a matter of a few hours, that completely changed. It's kind of shocking and a little surreal."

Those attempting to enter with campground or hotel reservations were turned away.

All visitors have to be out of the park by 3 p.m. today , park spokesman Scott Gediman said. However, through traffic -- such as motorists heading to the east side of the Sierra along Tioga Road -- are being allowed in and entrance fees are not being collected.

While Yosemite's five hotels and camps will be closed, lodges at private communities in the park's boundaries are still accepting reservations: Wawona, Yosemite West and Foresta.

However, guests will have to stay near those communities. During the shutdown, stopping to enjoy the scenery or taking a hike is prohibited, Gediman said. Roads to Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias are also closed.

The Yosemite shutdown made Williams think of news he once heard about a mysterious ship found floating on the ocean, void of a crew or passengers. It was known as the "ghost ship."

So he applied the term to the park on Wednesday. Williams works as a facilities management assistant and employee housing representative in Wawona. During the last government shutdown in 1995, which lasted for several weeks, he worked at Yosemite's south entrance station along Highway 41.

"I remember there was a Japanese family that arrived and there was a grandmother in the back of the sedan and she wanted to see a giant sequoia," Williams said. "I remember having to say, 'No, you can't do that,' and turn them around, and they got so close."

Another heart-breaking denial during that shutdown: A young couple who arrived at the gate who planned to go to Yosemite's iconic Tunnel View turnout to recite their wedding vows.

"I've talked to some of the people working at the south gate now and it's the same things," Williams said. "They are getting people from all over the world and U.S. citizens who are being turned away."

The latest shutdown is also a blow to the park's gateways. Yosemite generates about $380 million a year in tourist dollars for its neighboring communities, Gediman said.

Darin Soukup, executive director for the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, said many merchants and retailers receive about 50% of their revenue from tourists outside the area. Still, the chamber is hoping visitors will still come and discover Madera County's other attractions, such as fishing, golfing, wineries and art galleries.

A majority of about 1,450 workers employed by the park's concessionaire, Delaware North will be affected by the shutdown, said company spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro.

A grocery store in Yosemite Village and some dining will be available for employees for limited periods , she said.

"We're hoping this gets resolved quickly, it's definitely impacting a lot of individuals," Cesaro said. "We're just taking it day by day."

That description from Dan Williams -- one of about 600 Park Service employees in Yosemite furloughed since Tuesday -- was a surprising revelation, even for him.

Williams talked about what a normal day in Yosemite Valley should have looked like: bustling with people and activity.

"Just last weekend in the park, there were Yosemite Conservancy programs going and hikes and people all over the place," Williams said. "In a matter of a few hours, that completely changed. It's kind of shocking and a little surreal."

Those attempting to enter with campground or hotel reservations were turned away.

All visitors have to be out of the park by 3 p.m. today , park spokesman Scott Gediman said. However, through traffic -- such as motorists heading to the east side of the Sierra along Tioga Road -- are being allowed in and entrance fees are not being collected.

While Yosemite's five hotels and camps will be closed, lodges at private communities in the park's boundaries are still accepting reservations: Wawona, Yosemite West and Foresta.

However, guests will have to stay near those communities. During the shutdown, stopping to enjoy the scenery or taking a hike is prohibited, Gediman said. Roads to Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias are also closed.

The Yosemite shutdown made Williams think of news he once heard about a mysterious ship found floating on the ocean, void of a crew or passengers. It was known as the "ghost ship."

So he applied the term to the park on Wednesday. Williams works as a facilities management assistant and employee housing representative in Wawona. During the last government shutdown in 1995, which lasted for several weeks, he worked at Yosemite's south entrance station along Highway 41.

"I remember there was a Japanese family that arrived and there was a grandmother in the back of the sedan and she wanted to see a giant sequoia," Williams said. "I remember having to say, 'No, you can't do that,' and turn them around, and they got so close."

Another heart-breaking denial during that shutdown: A young couple who arrived at the gate who planned to go to Yosemite's iconic Tunnel View turnout to recite their wedding vows.

"I've talked to some of the people working at the south gate now and it's the same things," Williams said. "They are getting people from all over the world and U.S. citizens who are being turned away."

The latest shutdown is also a blow to the park's gateways. Yosemite generates about $380 million a year in tourist dollars for its neighboring communities, Gediman said.

Darin Soukup, executive director for the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, said many merchants and retailers receive about 50% of their revenue from tourists outside the area. Still, the chamber is hoping visitors will still come and discover Madera County's other attractions, such as fishing, golfing, wineries and art galleries.

A majority of about 1,450 workers employed by the park's concessionaire, Delaware North will be affected by the shutdown, said company spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro.

A grocery store in Yosemite Village and some dining will be available for employees for limited periods , she said.

"We're hoping this gets resolved quickly, it's definitely impacting a lot of individuals," Cesaro said. "We're just taking it day by day."

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