YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — This national treasure attracts about 4 million visitors a year, but on Tuesday it became a high-profile example of the federal government shutdown.
No new visitors were allowed in. As a result, Congress got called plenty of bad names by upset tourists who were turned around by park rangers at Yosemite’s south entrance along Highway 41.
Ron and Laura Kane of Houston first heard of the possible shutdown Monday night while waiting in an airport terminal on their way to Yosemite.
“A place like this, we should be able to enjoy it,” Ron Kane said. “We’re terribly disappointed with all the idiots in Washington.”
Park entrances remain open to through traffic, Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said – Tioga Road, for instance. The roads leading to Glacier Point and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias along Highway 41 are closed.
The Kanes planned to enjoy the park through Friday – during what would have been Laura Kane’s first trip to Yosemite. The couple were then hoping to go to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which were also closed in the shutdown.
“I love the U.S., but the Congress makes me crazy sometimes,” Laura Kane said.
The couple were unsure of what to do next.
Jim Jennings of Los Angeles had harsher words when stopped at the south entrance after a long drive from Southern California.
A portion of Congress is acting as “terrorists holding the country hostage” in an attempt to prevent health care reform, Jennings said, referring to conservative Republicans looking to undo Obamacare. “I think it’s totally unacceptable.”
Ironically, Yosemite was honored Tuesday with a Google Doodle marking the park’s 123rd anniversary. A Google spokesman told CNN the juxtaposition was unintentional. “The timing today is an unfortunate coincidence,” said Jennifer Bloch, a Google senior manager.
Campground and hotel reservations made in advance for Tuesday night were honored, but reservations for tonight and beyond were uncertain, Gediman said.
The park’s visitor centers were closed and commercial recreational activities such as open-air tram tours stopped operating, Gediman said.
About 600 park employees were furloughed Tuesday. About 150 employees remain on duty, Gediman said, including law enforcement, facilities maintenance – such as electricity and sewer – and emergency medical service.
Some businesses owned by the park’s concessionaire, Delaware North Cos., will remain open for limited periods. Examples are the Yosemite Village Store and Curry Village Gift & Grocery, Gediman said.
Yosemite has about 1,250 rooms among its five hotels and camps, and visitors are being assisted with rescheduling or refunds, said Lisa Cesaro, Yosemite’s Delaware North spokeswoman.
The government shutdown is a blow to the park’s gateway communities that depend on the $380 million a year in tourist dollars Yosemite generates, Gediman said.
Bill Putnam, manager of Oakhurst’s Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn, had more than a dozen cancellations by early Tuesday afternoon because of Yosemite’s closure.
“It would be nice if our congressional leaders got their act together and started acting like adults instead of children,” Putnam said. “It’s definitely going to have a negative economic impact … The economy (in the gateway communities) is tied to to tourism, and if we’re not bringing in tourist dollars, it’s going to have a trickle-down effect.”
The impact from more than 1,600 employees being laid off or furloughed between the park and its concessionaire will affect 25 percent of the work force in Mariposa County, said Kathy McCorry, executive director of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce.
She noted that the closure follows the Rim fire, one of the biggest blazes in state history. The late-summer fire burned near Yosemite for weeks and scared off tourists.
“With Yosemite gateways still reeling from the Rim fire, a government shutdown that forces Yosemite National Park to close will hit this region with a one-two punch that will have crippling effects to our communities,” McCorry said. “It will take years to recover.”
McCorry said that during the last federal government shutdown that began in the winter of 1995, lodging occupancy dropped 80percent in Mariposa County, and the park’s concessionaire lost $200,000 to $300,000 a day. The chamber is urging its residents to contact Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, the Republican whose district includes the Sierra national parks, to complain.
National Park Service officials said that during a government shutdown, communities near parks nationwide collectively stand to lose about $76million a day in sales.
“It's a tough thing,” Gediman said. “One thing we’re finding is international visitors are caught off guard because a government shutdown is not something they really follow or know about.”
Among many international tourists turned away from Yosemite on Tuesday was a group from Germany who arrived by car. Adam Presley, a construction worker, gave them directions to a gas station.
“It was upsetting, disappointing,” he said of their reactions. “They came to see the beauty here, and they can’t.”