Yosemite employees still taking stock of damage, as possible second shutdown looms

Yosemite National Park almost back to full operations

Yosemite officials and visitors reflect on the park's condition on Wednesday, Jan. 30, three days into the park welcoming back its staff after a month-long government shutdown.
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Yosemite officials and visitors reflect on the park's condition on Wednesday, Jan. 30, three days into the park welcoming back its staff after a month-long government shutdown.

Yosemite National Park employees scrambled to return to normal this week after a month-long government shutdown.

But the full impact of the shutdown remains unclear, however, as the prospect of a second shutdown looms.

The government temporarily reopened after President Donald Trump last week signed a resolution to keep it open for three weeks.

National Park Service employees were welcomed back to their posts Monday.

During the shutdown, park employees were furloughed or worked without pay, but its entrances were kept open.

That means for 35 days Yosemite lost the $35 per car and $30 per motorcycle it collects at the entrance.

According to the park website, “80 percent of entrance fees stay in the park and are devoted to spending that supports the visitor” and the other 20 percent are shared with “with other national parks for their projects.”

Scott Gediman, park spokesman, could not provide an estimate as to how much money was lost, saying the focus right now is getting the park back to full operations.

Other national parks in California have said they were hit hard by the shutdown. Joshua Tree National Park, for example, missed out on $1.03 million in entrance fees, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

Joshua Tree National Park had its Joshua trees vandalized. Death Valley National Park’s plains were plagued with tire marks.

Yosemite, on the other hand, remained relatively unharmed by comparison, despite instances of trash and human feces that forced some campgrounds to close during the shutdown.

“Obviously there were trash and waste concerns that caused the shutdown of some parts of the park, but I haven’t heard of anything in the way of vandalism, or anything so severe as in Death Valley or Joshua Tree,” said Mark Rose, Sierra Nevada Field Representative for the National Park Conservation Association, an independent, nonpartisan non-profit that works to strengthen national parks.

As for the waste concerns, those appeared to be mainly taken care of by local volunteer groups.

“While many park rangers were furloughed and unable to work at the time, we had a lot of great volunteer groups in our local communities come up and help clean up Yosemite during the course of the shutdown,” said Jaime Richards, another Yosemite spokesperson.

Gediman called the volunteer efforts a “testament to how much people love Yosemite.”

Roger Orstad, 70, had been at the park for three days and was catching one last breathtaking view this week of the Tunnel View scenery with his wife.

That included the sight of a seemingly perpetual flood of water pouring down on the floor of the park from Bridalveil Fall.

Orstad and his wife, Mary Orstad, have visited the park more than two dozen times and felt like the park’s cleanliness was up to par with all of his other visits.

“We took quite a few trails and we saw no impact as far as trash and any of the services. Everything was as it would normally be on a normal winter day in Yosemite,” Roger Orstad said.

A handful of visitors, even with the park still working to restore full operations, felt like the park had returned to what they expected.

On a quiet Wednesday in Yosemite, Kimberly Person marveled at the service she had just received from a park ranger.

“We were just talking with a ranger there who was talking about serving the public,” Person, 46, said. “(He said) ‘I work for you, I’m here as a part of the National Park Service.’”

Rangers like the one Person and her partner, John Masselink, describe had not been available much during the month-long government shutdown. They were either furloughed or worked without pay.

Person and Masselink are visiting California from Florida and are passing through Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.

The couple shared stories of rangers in Joshua Tree and Sequoia who expressed their relief in finally being back at work.

“It’s really great to see people back working. They really wanted to be back in the park,” Person said. “Everybody’s ready to get to work, everybody’s cleaning up things, or answering questions, helping you get where you need to go.”

Gediman said the restoration of full operations in the park has been an ongoing process this week.

He said about 90 percent of the workforce is back at the park, with the remaining staff expected to be back by the end of the week.

The Wawona and Hodgdon Campgrounds were reopened Monday, the Mariposa Grove reopened Thursday, and the south entrance into the park, which was forced to limit its access during the shutdown due to a lack of available staff, was restored to normality on Tuesday.

“We’re very excited to be getting back to full operations at Yosemite National Park. Things are just about back to normal,” Gediman said.

As of Thursday though, “normal” is still only temporary. The government could close down again if a decision on the border wall is not reached.

“We are a very nimble operation and so we continue to move forward and take everything as we need to take it. Right now, the plan is to continue to serve the public as best as we can,” Richards, regarding the possibility of another shutdown.

With so much uncertainty surrounding national parks, Skip Patton was just grateful to have visited the Yosemite when he did.

Patton, 70, had never been to Yosemite before Tuesday. On Wednesday, reflecting on his two days in the park, the trip was worth the wait for the Albany, New York, resident.

Patton referred to the landscape as “awesome” twice to really ring the point home and gestured towards El Capitan as if to let the scenery speak for him.

“We’re probably lucky that its January and the crowds aren’t heavy, you know, for their first couple of days back in operations, but everything has been very smooth,” Patton said.

The timing appears even luckier when taking the weather forecast for this weekend into account. Yosemite is predicted to endure another storm this weekend, along with the rest of the southern Sierra Nevada region.

Caltrans advises against traveling in the mountains from Friday afternoon and into the weekend due to snow levels of about 6,000 feet on Friday and 4,500 feet on Saturday.

Highway 140 near the Ferguson Fire burn scar will be preemptively closed beginning at 4 a.m. on Saturday because of the incoming storm.