Behind the rustic facades of hotels, ski shops, gift stores and travel bureaus within Yosemite National Park and outside its gates, business owners and holiday travelers spent Friday anxiously wondering whether they would become victims of a federal government shutdown.
Their nerves frayed more when lawmakers failed to reach a deal by a midnight deadline and the partial shutdown began.
At stake was the lucrative Christmas and New Year’s business during one of the busiest weeks of winter at Yosemite, which draws more than 6 million visitors a year. The fate of California’s other national parks also remained uncertain.
But on Saturday, Yosemite officials said the park remained open and that concessions and the Yosemite Valley shuttle service are operating normally. Roads and hiking trails normally open during the winter also remain open.
David Freireich, a spokesman for the park’s major concessionaire, Yosemite Hospitality, said the park’s annual Christmas celebration, the Bracebridge Dinner held at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel) since 1927, would go on as planned Saturday night.
“We are currently operating business as usual,” he said.
On its website, an alert about the government shutdown advised that emergency response time may increase and that entrance stations are unstaffed. Visitor centers and the Yosemite Museum are closed and National Park Service programs are cancelled. Restroom and trash removal services are limited.
Two days earlier, Jonathan Farrington, director of the Yosemite-Mariposa Tourism Bureau, responded to nervous inquiries from prospective visitors by saying that while the park’s gates would be unmanned, there would be no fee for entering the park.
In an interview on Friday afternoon, he was not so sure.
“A day ago, indications were that a shutdown would not actually happen,” he said.“We’re just not hearing anything that is reassuring. In fact, we’re not hearing anything at all.”
Besides Yosemite, other popular parks around the country, like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, also remained open. In California, the private resort Oasis at Death Valley National Park is also open, as are the park’s trails and hiking areas.
There were some exceptions, however. San Diegans and holiday visitors trying to visit Cabrillo National Monument on Saturday were turned away. The park in Point Loma was closed “for the safety of visitors and park resources” due to a lapse of appropriations.
Still, most parks, like Joshua Tree National Park, remained open.
The visitors center was shuttered and organized ranger activities curtailed, but the gates were open Saturday morning allowing people to drive through the high desert wilderness and take unguided hikes, as usual.
“Our employees who would usually take fees have been furloughed so we aren’t accepting fees,” said ranger Dylan Moe. “There’s a small staff or park employees here to respond to emergencies if they arise, but that’s it.”
The lack of staff did have a silver lining, of course.
One motorist who pulled up to the pay station at the entrance to Joshua Tree on Saturday was delighted to discover there was no attendant, while the park remained open.