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Despite Reports Of Trashed Parks, Most Yosemite Visitors Are Not Deterred

Jan 8, 2019

While the state is experiencing a transition of power and new laws for the new year, lawmakers in D.C. still haven’t made progress on how to reopen the federal  government. That means some National Parks like Sequoia and Kings Canyon are currently closed, but the more popular park in our area - Yosemite - is still entertaining guests.

But there are caveats, including limited resources and staffing. No one is at the ranger station handing out maps, and outdoor bathrooms along the trails are closed.

None of that deterred Katie Arnst. I found her standing in front of Half Dome last week trying to get the perfect shot. She’s a photographer from Sacramento who came here spontaneously.

Arnst says, she didn’t see the trash and human waste that rangers have been posting anonymously about on Facebook. But maybe she just timed her visit well; the Fresno Bee reported that some have visited the park with the sole purpose of helping to pick up piled trash.

Arnst is a smart traveler anyway, so she took some precautions: “I definitely did a little more research, brought my own toilet paper,” she laughs. Arnst adds that she also took care to check “what roads were closed, if a main highway I was going to take was closed.”

Arnst didn’t run into any closed roads herself, but park officials are turning away day visitors from the Highway 41 South Entrance. Only guests with overnight lodging in the park can go through. This derailed Tyler Birch.

“We came yesterday to the other gate,” Birch says, meaning the south gate. “Then they told us we had to come in through this other gate, which was like another hour drive.”

Since Birch wasn’t planning to stay overnight in the park, he got sent back through Oakhurst and Mariposa to enter from another gate at Highway 140.

Instead of driving the extra hour to enter the park that same day, Birch decided to hang out nearby.

“We just stayed in Oakhurst for a while, for yesterday, and we just came for today instead,” he says.

It’s not just Birch who’s spent more time in Oakhurst due to the shutdown. Robby Fleener, who owns Sugar Pine Pizza, says he’s seen a lot more visitors than usual.

“We had hour and a half waits, we had reservation bookings that I had to turn others away because I had tables reserved, or I had meals reserved that they were going to carry out,” Fleener says.

He says the uptick in business could be from furloughed employees coming down for a meal, and visitors who are taking advantage of the free park entrance. At the same time, though, Fleener says he feels bad for those who are struggling because of the shutdown.

Robby Fleener and his wife Toni Jenkins-Fleener have run Sugar Pine Pizza in Oakhurst for nine years. Fleener says business has been great lately, which he attributes to free admission to Yosemite National Park, due to the government shutdown.
Credit Laura Tsutsui / Valley Public Radio

“I would love to take money out of my own account and help pay down the deficit, but I would want something in writing, that when they do this, or come anywhere near this again, they get spanked, just like a little child,” he says.

That's unlikely to happen, but it is true that the lack of services is keeping people, including children, away from the park. Jim Romo is one of them. He would have liked to take his grandkids, but it just seemed too complicated.

“I understand many public facilities were not going to be available so you'd have to go into perhaps some hotels or restaurants in the area and so we just thought it would be too much trouble this time around,” says Romo.

Right now, hotels, stores and restaurants in Yosemite Valley, which aren’t operated by the government, are still open. At the same time, the park service will begin using entrance fees to fund basic operations -- and that means that for now, Yosemite will continue to have visitors.