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Friday, April 19, 2024

U.S. Government shutdown closes portions of California National Parks

Officials have announced that they are closing sections of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks because of the partial shutdown of the Federal Government.

Sequoia National Park
The Sequoia National Park

The announcement, made earlier, follows a similar closure announced for Joshua Tree National Park.

In both cases, park officials said the government shutdown has prevented them from maintaining conditions that are safe for park visitors.

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon, about 250 miles North of Los Angeles, furloughed park employees have been unable to maintain the safety of roads and certain walking paths in winter conditions.

In Joshua Tree, 209 kilometres east of Los Angeles, workers have been unable to empty vault toilets, which are near capacity.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon officials said that they had closed the Generals Highway at Hospital Rock.

The closure extends through Giant Forest and Lodge pole, through to Lost Grove.

“Trash receptacles are overflowing, resulting in litter dispersal throughout the area and a threat to wildlife,’’ the park service said in a news release.

“Vehicular congestion, motor vehicle accidents, and icy roadways have led to up to three-hour delays on the Generals Highway.’’

Popular walking paths have also become more hazardous: “The Grant Tree Trail, normally minimally maintained by sanding, has become extraordinarily slick.

The ice and snow have become compressed, glazed because of heavy traffic, causing multiple falls and at least one injury.’’

The park service said some privately-operated facilities in these areas would also have to close.

“It is likely these closures will remain in effect for the duration of the government shutdown,’’ the agency said in a release.

To be sure, areas of the parks would be closed anyway because of winter weather conditions.

Cedar Grove Lodge and Bearpaw High Sierra Camp fall into this category, as does the mountain road linking the two parks.

The lodges that would normally remain open have tried to remain so.

Their employees are not directly affected by the government shutdown because they work for a private company.

But visitor centres are closed, and roadside facilities are not being maintained.

At the privately run Wuksachi Lodge, a manager of the off-site reservation centre said that the park service was allowing guests to stay at the lodge through Tuesday, January 1, 2019 but on Wednesday the lodge would close.

In the meantime, guests were not allowed to hike on nearby trails.

As of Tuesday, John Muir Lodge and some of the Grant Grove cabins in Kings Canyon were to remain open.

The status of all facilities would be reviewed on a day-to-day basis, said the manager, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorised to speak on behalf of the park or the private operator.

The partial shutdown is the result of a standoff between President Trump and Congress over the federal budget.

The bad political weather in Washington has wreaked havoc in the economy surrounding the parks, said Nicky French, owner of Buckaroo Diner and the Ol’ Buckaroo food truck in nearby Three Rivers. She called the situation “chaos.’’

“All of the services that go into maintaining public land are not being done,’’ French said.

Some tourists who were unaware of the shutdown have tried driving into the park on icy roads and quickly turned around.

Others are canceling Airbnb reservations and other accommodations.

“The town has lost thousands and thousands of dollars. “It’s a very small economy, and it’s an economy that relies on tourism,’’ French said.

To the south, in Joshua Tree, campgrounds will close at noon on Wednesday.

Officials say they are basing the closure on health and safety concerns.

The park’s vault toilets are near capacity. Also, park visitor centres, flush toilets, water-filling stations and dump stations are all closed because of the shutdown.

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