Catherine Kouriri was considering carrying on with her planned camping trip to Yosemite National Park this past weekend despite the federal government shutdown.
The Sacramento woman was one of many Yosemite-bound motorists trying to plot their next move Friday from the Rim of the World overlook along Highway 120 south of Buck Meadows.
“I’m thinking about laying out under the stars hidden behind a rock somewhere in Tuolumne Meadows,” she said. “The worst that could happen is I get a flashlight shined in my face in the middle of the night and I’m asked to leave.”
Kouriri said the shutdown is “embarrassing” and she sympathizes with international tourists.
“It’s outrageous that our government is causing this kind of disappointment to world travelers who just want to see one of the most incredible places on Earth,” she said.
One such group included seven people visiting from France who had previously made reservations to camp in the park.
“It’s pretty strange to see a country shut everything down in one day,” said 31-year-old Etienne Grosse. “It’s pretty weird to see the government telling people they can’t work.”
Motorists passing through Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat Entrance Station are being handed a piece of paper letting them know that “because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park facility is closed.”
Park attendants did not collect money or check park passes.
The notice states that all restrooms, campgrounds and trails are closed within the park. It also states that restaurants, stores and lodging are not available.
Additionally, park staff were warning motorists that Yosemite is only open to through traffic on highways 120, 140 and 41. “Stopping or parking on roads or in pullouts is strictly prohibited,” the paper states.
Even so, many tourists decided to stop and take pictures along the road.
A park ranger was stopping motorists Friday from entering Yosemite Valley. All was quiet at the normally-bustling Yosemite Village, a tourist hub with a now-closed visitor center, museum and store.
Meanwhile, an “Occupy Yosemite” sit-down protest was planned for Friday in Tuolumne Meadows.
Many U.S. citizens have been protesting the closures of national parks since the federal shutdown began.
The closure of the region’s main tourist attraction — Yosemite National Park — has sparked intense debate over the legitimacy of federal agencies keeping people off public lands.
Some affected by the closures have argued that the government is cutting off the public’s access to popular national monuments and parks as a political maneuver to gain support. However, experts say the closures are actually in line with the general requirements of certain federal land-management agencies, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
Albert Lin, a professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Law, said the general functions of the various agencies are governed by the foundational act that established each one.
The National Park Service, for example, was created by Congress in 1916 under the Organic Act, which outlines the agency’s broad mission to conserve scenery and national historic objects. Lin said this is probably the “rationale” used for closing the parks while most federal employees are on furlough during the shutdown.
“It strikes me as a reasonable decision that they made in light of what the mission of the park service is,” he said of the Yosemite closure.
Yosemite probably doesn’t have enough personnel to enforce the rules that ensure public safety and serve the overall mission of the Park Service, Lin said. Certain emergency, law enforcement and maintenance services deemed “essential” have been allowed to remain working in the park, while 660 out of a total 820 employees are on furlough.
Lin also said there likely will be legal consequences for people who choose to knowingly disobey these closures.
“Even when public lands are under normal government operating status, they have the ability to close off areas for certain reasons,” such as if they pose a threat to visitor safety, Lin said. “I’m sure there are ways to prosecute someone who breaks those laws, but I can’t quote the specific provisions.”
Other public lands remain open — including forest areas near Pinecrest and Shasta lakes — possibly because of the different objectives of each agency that manages those lands as well as a practical inability to enforce the closure, Lin said.
“Closing off those areas is less practical than closing parks,” he said. “For Yosemite, there are only a certain number of ways in and out.”
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has closed all campgrounds, trails, day-use areas and boat launches at New Melones Reservoir. Visitors trying to enter the various recreation areas are being turned away by staff at the gate.
Anyone caught in the closed area will be asked to leave, according to Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero.
“It’s federal land that’s closed, so I don’t know what the law enforcement aspect of that is, but they’ll be asked to leave either by the staff or the Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
On Friday, the bureau issued a notice that boat owners who pay for moorings at New Melones Lake Marina will no longer be allowed to enter if the shutdown continues after Monday.
“How does the government get away with locking people’s private possessions away from them?” asked Melanie Lewis, owner of Glory Hole Sports just outside the reservoir’s Angels Camp entrance.
Lewis, a Republican, said she’s put her political loyalties aside and is hoping lawmakers put an end to the situation soon.
“Both sides are being ridiculous,” Lewis said. “I can see why they’re not allowing the budget to pass because it’s the only way to stop Obamacare. I personally don’t think it’s fundable or ready to roll out, but it’s going to happen anyway.”
Lewis’ business has suffered over the past couple months — first from the Rim Fire and now the shutdown. She called closing the reservoir “silly” because people used to use it before full-time Reclamation staff patrolled the shores.
“The lake is our biggest tourist draw here in Angels Camp,” she said. “When the government is doing what they’re doing right now, they want to inconvenience as many people as possible, so they close the things that will have the most impact on the population.”