Tuolumne County access to Yosemite National Park reopened Monday after temporary closures due to snow and restricted access during the partial federal government shutdown.
In the wake of a two-day storm that brought snow to some elevations in Yosemite, park staff Monday morning were advising all visitors to use Highway 140 to get into the park. By Monday afternoon, Big Oak Flat Road inside the park was open with no chain restrictions.
A Caltrans sign on Highway 120 at Moccasin stated “Yosemite Park Entrance Closed” before noon Monday, but that was changed to indicate the Big Oak Flat entrance on Highway 120 is open for the time being, a Caltrans District 10 spokesman said Monday afternoon.
Also Monday, investigators with the Mariposa County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office said the cause of death for a man who died in the park Christmas Day, during the shutdown, was craniocerebral head injuries.
Joshua Conner, 32, of Lakeview, Ohio, was in the Mist Trail area near Vernal Fall when he fell, and someone else witnessed Conner falling into the Merced River, Mariposa County Sheriff-Coroner’s staff said. Conner was with his dog, Leo, when he died, according to an obituary published by a Lima, Ohio funeral home.
Andrew Muñoz, acting chief of public affairs for the National Park Service in San Francisco, said via email last week his agency wasn’t releasing more detail about Conner’s death because the incident remained under investigation, which was taking longer than usual because of the shutdown.
In addition on Monday, the Mother Lode’s congressman, Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, touted a move by acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to release about $255 million in visitor fees to be used for garbage collection, restroom servicing and other emergency maintenance in national parks like Yosemite, which have been crippled by workforce and service reductions during the shutdown.
“It’s about $255 million in (Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act) funds,” McClintock said Monday afternoon in a phone interview. “I’ve spoken with people in Sequoia-Kings Canyon, and they have what they need, so I’m confident Yosemite will have what they need as well.”
Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act funds are typically earmarked to improve visitor experiences in national parks, not to pay for cleaning toilets and collecting trash. In a news release circulated Sunday, a deputy director of the National Park Service named P. Daniel Smith said Bernhardt and the NPS decided visitor fees can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to heavily visited national parks during the lapse in federal appropriations.
“In the coming days, the NPS will begin to use these funds to clean up trash that has built up at numerous parks, clean and maintain restrooms, bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas, and to restore accessibility to areas that would typically be accessible this time of year,” Smith said.
Aramark, the concessioner in Yosemite, and Delaware North, the concessioner in Sequoia-Kings Canyon, have maintained many restrooms and collected garbage in their respective parks since the shutdown began Dec. 22, according to McClintock.
“A lot of these accounts of human waste and trash are exaggerated, but it’s still a problem and it needs to be dealt with,” McClintock said. “This will make it possible to keep the parks open. The funds will run out if the shutdown goes on forever, but shutdowns don’t go on forever.”
McClintock added that he is grateful for the Interior Department’s solution on behalf of gateway communities and park visitors.