Congressional lawmakers see no clear path to ending the current partial shutdown of the federal government due to lack of funding. Now in its seventh day, the interruption in some federal services has become a political bargaining chip for the sparring factions to have their way or not.
There are several government departments that are currently shuttered, but from past experience the federal government has determined that the part the public disliked the most was the complete closure of the national parks. In anticipation of a 2017 shutdown, a “partial” shutdown policy protocol was implemented that kept most national parks open.
In iconic parks like Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, when the gates were locked in October 2013, the economic impacts were felt throughout a wide region. Another shutdown like that one would be political suicide so elected officials have come up with a kinder, gentler shutdown. The partial shutdown scales back about 25 percent of the government’s services.
Over 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or working without pay for the past week. Essential services, including law enforcement and emergency services remain on the job but their paychecks will be retroactive, pending congressional approval.
Here’s how the shutdown is affecting the National Park Service and concessions in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Upon entering the Ash Mountain entrance station, no fee is collected nor pass needed for entry. But each motorist is required to carry tire chains — that’s California law for mountain travel in the winter.
Once in the higher elevations of the park, motorists are being advised when and if tire chains are required for vehicle travel. Law enforcement park rangers remain on duty as well as equipment operators to plow roads and parking lots around key attractions.
Normally during the Christmas-to-New Year's holiday period, free shuttle buses operate between Giant Forest Museum and Wuksachi Village. Due to the shutdown, the holiday shuttle is not running.
At Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia and John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon, Delaware North has provided uninterrupted service to its guests.
“As Sequoia National Park’s concessioner, we are operating pretty much business as usual,” said Dan Cornforth, Wuksachi’s general manager. “Of course, we don’t have the popular ranger programs but Wuksachi Village and Lodgepole Market are currently operating regular services during winter hours.”
Cornforth said that holiday visitors this year miss the opportunity to have a visitor center or the Giant Forest Museum but the “go outside” activities remain available. In other words, there is still plenty to do.
"Those of our guests who come up here to hike are pleased by the lack of snow,” Cornforth said. “The eight to 10 inches on the ground is picturesque, and there’s enough for the kids to build a snowman and some limited snow play. We’re probably better off if we don’t have a storm at least until we get everyone through the next week.”
Cornforth said he thinks the shutdown affects day-use visitors more than his guests. There are no services available to visitors, but the restrooms are open as is the Lodgepole Market and the dining room and bar at Wuksachi Lodge.
The road between the parks is closed indefinitely so there is no direct access from Wuksachi to Highway 180 and Kings Canyon National Park.
State governments in Utah and Arizona have pledged assistance to keep their national parks and federal lands areas up and running. State workers in Arizona are working to protect area businesses by ensuring that NPS restrooms are cleaned, trash is collected, and shuttle buses are running.