KNIGHTS FERRY To understand the absurdity of the government shutdown, consider this:
If you traipse across the historic covered bridge at Knights Ferry, or set foot on the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge or Yosemite National Park or any of the other federal properties closed until further notice, you are trespassing and could be cited and fined assuming theres anyone on duty to write the ticket.
That reportedly happened to a Pennsylvania man caught while running through Valley Forge National Historical Park earlier this week, according to news reports. A ranger who hadnt been furloughed fined him $100. Tourists simply are ignoring directives to stay off closed memorials and monuments on D.C.s Capitol Mall.
Locally, if you cast a line into New Melones Reservoir run by the federal Bureau of Reclamation you are trespassing. Yes, trespassing on recreational or historically significant land that, as a U.S. citizens, we all are supposed to own. Trespassing on parks and recreation areas that have virtually no national security concerns and, in most cases, dont require 24-7 federal oversight.
Indeed, while egos run rampant in Washington, D.C., the posturing pols hold hostage many places people visit to have fun, relax or take a walk amid history and nature.
I went out to Knights Ferry on Tuesday and must confess: I trespassed by walking 40 yards or so from the end of the road to take a photo of the bridge. Duane Johnson, the Army Corps of Engineers chief ranger, greeted me on my way back. No arrest, no citation. He didnt even threaten to march me down the street and lock me up in the towns rusty old iron jailhouse.
Johnson is one of two people still on duty there the other being a maintenance worker and genuinely feels for the 13 members of his staff who are furloughed until the blame gamers in Washington get their act together.
Hed unquestionably prefer having his charges on duty to answer questions for the people who should be going through the visitor center, roaming the park, photographing the bridge, tossing stones in the river, picnicking, putting their boats into the Stanislaus River or just taking in the scenery as the trees begin to show their fall color.
As we chatted, a couple of cars drove toward the old bridge, turned around and headed back. After the initial closure Sunday afternoon and the word got out, its been quiet, he said.
Thats about what weve been seeing, Johnson said, nodding toward a car driving away.
The parking and picnic areas are empty behind locked gates on both sides of the river.
Likewise, the Stanislaus National Forest office in Sonora and district ranger stations are closed and unstaffed. Granted, the forest gets fewer visitors after Labor Day, once the weather turns cold or after deer season ends. But you can still use it the part that didnt burn up in the Rim fire, anyway, and also is closed.
You can even write yourself a wilderness permit at some of the ranger stations. You just cant chat with a ranger because they were told to stand down while the pols in Washington mess up.
As detailed in Wednesdays Bee, the closure of Yosemite is devastating the town of Mariposa, which makes much of its collective living off Yosemite tourists. And until Wednesday morning, drivers could still pass through the national park though prohibited from stopping to take a photo on Highway 120 over Tioga Pass. Snow, however, has closed the road for the time being and finished what the shutdown did not.
The shutdown is equally pronounced in the Bay Area, where federal officials ordered the Cliff House an iconic restaurant and bar overlooking the Pacific Ocean to close because it is a concessionaire within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The Cliff House is a privately owned business that makes money and generates tax revenue from which the government benefits.
The irony is that the politicians refer to the furloughed workers as nonessential. Yet every two years in Congress and six in the Senate, the voters have the opportunity to brand them nonessential as in replaceable as well.
In the meantime, and until further notice, to visit a federal park is to trespass.