Three Rivers and its gateway businesses are no strangers to shutdowns. The most serious ones occur when the federal government ceases to operate and the nearby national parks are shuttered like they were October 2014.
Recently, Three Rivers faced a shutdown of the cyber kind. As early as Wednesday, Jan. 24, local business owners were receiving inquiries about road closures along Highway 198.
In a typical winter, Generals Highway between Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks is routinely closed when there’s snow accumulation; the road to Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon and Mineral King Road also close for the winter until their traditional spring openings.
But for some unknown reason, Highway 198 began showing up on Google Maps as “Closed During Winter” from west of Lake Kaweah through Three Rivers. The entire portion of Generals Highway from the Sequoia entrance to Kings Canyon showed as closed, as did Highway 180 from
the Kings Canyon entrance to Grant Grove (which is also open year-round).
Allison Millner, co-owner of Sierra Subs and Salads, said she first noticed the map glitch on Thursday, Feb. 1, after receiving two phone calls asking if the road through Three Rivers was closed due to snow. Thinking that peculiar in a winter where Three Rivers hasn’t had much rain let alone snow in the nearby mountains, Allison checked the Google app and sure enough the roads were labeled as closed.
Others locals noticed the closure too, like Diana Jules, who is a real estate agent and vacation rental owner. She said she noticed that traffic on the highway headed for national parks was almost non-existent for several days.
Local residents who have ties to Cal Trans and/or Google got to work on the problem. It wasn’t easy reaching the right people, especially in a company as massive as Google, but eventually the message was received and action was taken.
No spokesperson from Google could say for certain how the glitch occurred but on Sunday, Feb. 4, at 5:30 p.m., the error had been corrected.
It is uncertain what the precise effect of the mislabeling had on the local economy, which depends on year-round travelers that access the area via Highway 198.
What is certain is that so many visitors now depend on Google Maps for navigation it is critical that the service be updated and verified especially where heavily traveled roads into and out of national parks are located.