BLAUERT: Don't let government shutdown ruin your plans to visit outdoors

October 15, 2013 

— There's been a lot of misinformation circulating about outdoor recreation on federal lands during the government shutdown. Most news reports have focused on national parks, without providing information about areas that remain open.

Most people are left with the impression that everything is shuttered. Since federal websites and phone numbers are inoperable or not being updated, information can be hard to find.

Shutdowns might be a uniquely American phenomenon, though travel plans in other parts of the world can be disrupted. I'm not much of a world traveler, but of the few trips I've made overseas, one was altered by strikes and another by the events of September 11.

In 2002 one of my college buddies and I were headed to Spain for a summer of studying abroad. We expected to change planes in London but after our arrival found that a Spanish transportation strike had canceled all flights. Already embarked on what we were convinced would be one of the great adventures of our lives, we decided that we'd find another way to get to Madrid. That's what we told the BBC reporter who stuck a microphone and camera in our faces, and I've always wondered if we ended up on British TV that day.

Nice, France, was the closest to Spain the airline could get us, but the ticket change was free. By walking, taking municipal buses and a French train, we got to the Spanish border when word arrived that the strike was over.

Though that experience was frustrating, it had its share of fun. What I learned was that it's possible to have fun even when your best plans don't work out.

While our government remains shut down, it's still possible to have a great trip to the mountains. You just have to be creative and be willing to accept a new favorite place.

Though Yosemite is officially closed, cross-park roads remain open. You can still get to the Eastern Sierra via the Tioga Road (Highway 120), you're just not allowed to stop along the way — even to take photos. National Forests remain open to hiking, fishing and hunting. While driving over Sonora Pass this weekend, I found a self-issuing permit station for overnight backpacking permits at the Summit District Ranger Station (Pinecrest). That was the only one I saw, but there are probably others.

Many National Forest recreation sites such as campgrounds are gated, though camping options are available at other public areas and at privately owned campgrounds. You can also drive into and camp at ungated campgrounds or park outside gated campgrounds and walk in, though no services will be provided. What seems most outrageous is that private concessionaires that operate campgrounds within national forests were ordered to close and cancel reservations, despite the fact that campers pay for the operation of these campgrounds, not taxpayers.

I called Kennedy Meadows Resort and Pack Station near Sonora Pass on Friday. The resort doesn't usually offer camping because of the adjacent Forest Service campgrounds, but they are adjusting their business to deal with circumstances. Owner Matt Bloom says, "come on up and you can camp on our land."

Visitors bureaus have some of the best information about areas around federal recreation areas. State parks and recreation areas and all their facilities are unaffected by the shutdown. This includes Calaveras Big Trees and all the Tahoe parks, plus Millerton and San Luis reservoirs.

Recreational lakes operated by irrigation districts, public or private utilities, or counties (Don Pedro, McSwain, McClure, Bass, Shaver, and Huntington) also remain open. New Melones, Hensely and Eastman lakes are closed, along with federal wildlife refuges.

The combined effect of the Rim fire and federal shutdown have been devastating for businesses in the gateway communities around Yosemite, especially Groveland. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy foothill towns and they'd be more than glad to see you after a slow summer.

My plans this weekend originally included hiking to the top of Yosemite's North Dome with my fiancé and parents. Instead, we ended up rerouting our trip over the Sierra and back to enjoy this year's fall foliage (Highways 108, 395 and 120). While this definitely doesn't seem to be one of the better years for vivid colors, there still are places to find groves with leaves that weren't damaged by wet weather. A large number of trees above the 8,500 foot elevation level were already bare, but many groves in lower elevations were turning nicely or were on the brink. The weather was warm and this loop is a drive that never fails to be breathtaking.

Adam Blauert is a Sun-Star correspondent. Reach him at

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