Federal shutdown closes major portions of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Howard Blume and Matthew Ormseth | Los Angeles Times | January 2, 2019 1:00am
Jan. 02--Officials have announced they are closing sections of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.
The announcement, made late Monday, 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, 130 miles east of Los Angeles, workers have been unable to empty vault toilets, which are near capacity.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon officials said that as of 6 p.m. Monday they had closed the Generals Highway at Hospital Rock. The closure extends through Giant Forest and Lodgepole, 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 has become compressed and glazed due to heavy traffic, causing multiple falls and at least one injury."
Officials emphasized the importance of checking current road and weather conditions by calling (559) 565-3341.
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 centers are closed and roadside facilities are not being maintained.
At the privately run Wuksachi Lodge, a manager of the off-site reservation center said that the park service was allowing guests to stay at the lodge through Tuesday night, but on Wednesday the lodge would close. In the meantime, guests were not allowed to hike on nearby trails.
As of Tuesday night, 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 authorized 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, D.C., 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," French said. "It's a very small economy, and it's an economy that relies on tourism."
To the south, in Joshua Tree, campgrounds will close at noon Wednesday. Officials say they are basing the closure on health and safety concerns. The park's vault toilets are near capacity. Also, park visitor centers, flush toilets, water-filling stations and dump stations are all closed because of the shutdown.
Some rangers remained to patrol the 1,235-square-mile park, a popular winter destination for hikers and rock climbers, but park officials said Monday that human waste in public areas, off-road driving and other infractions are becoming a problem as the government shutdown drags on.