By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
THREE RIVERS – While the government has remained closed for a historic amount of time, Tulare County’s most visited scenes are now open. And it could not have been soon enough for the community of Three Rivers.
Tom Marshall, Board President of the Three Rivers Historical Society and member of the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce said the shutdown had a sudden and noticeable affect on the community. He said businesses have complained about canceled reservations at hotels, lack of customers at shops and few diners at restaurants.
“We saw a marked decrease in the people visiting the museum in the weeks the park was closed,” Marshall added.
Despite the parks being open for the short time after the shutdown began, due to willing volunteers, businesses grew frustrated when the park officially closed because of unsanitary conditions.
“Bathroom facilities in all locations are unsanitary and unhealthy, resulting in facility closures and human waste and toilet paper accumulation. Overflowing trash receptacles have resulted in animals eating and spreading trash around. Lack of adequate parking has resulted in significant pedestrian use of the Generals Highway, creating risk of pedestrian-vehicle conflicts,” stated a National Park Service press release issued on Jan. 2.
Marshall says businesses grew frustrated when the park had to close the park because of trash.
“[Businesses] almost saw it coming as soon as the shutdown came into effect on the 21st of Dec. The frustrations came when the small number of people in the Valley came up because they hear it was free admission and they trashed the park,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t the people here. And [businesses] aren’t mad at the park service or volunteers. They’re mad at Congress and the president.”
Late last week the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks restored accessibility and resumed basic visitor services on Jan. 11. Now visitors can see some of the most visited areas including: Giant Forest and General Sherman Tree, Grant Grove and General Grant Tree, Foothills and Hospital Rock, Potwisha and Azalea Campgrounds, Big Stump and Wolverton snow play areas.
All other areas that are typically open this time of year – campgrounds, restrooms, trails, and roads – will remain open unless winter conditions or other factors require otherwise. Visitor centers though, will remain closed.
According to the Park service officials determined that by using Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds to immediately bring back park maintenance and law enforcement crews to plow roads, clean restrooms, remove trash, and provide health and safety operations, the park was able to restore accessibility to the park for visitors while ensuring health and safety.
“We greatly appreciate the generous contributions of our park partners and surrounding communities who have helped in many ways during this lapse in appropriations,” said acting park superintendent Christy Brigham. “We are happy to see our park clean and with excited visitors already enjoying their national parks.”
With the park now open Marshall says the museum has seen a slight pick up in activity, but that does not mean much during the slowest part of their year anyways. However, he is glad to see international visitors able to visit the park unimpeded again.
“It was hard telling people, especially international visitors that it was closed. But now we have to tell them they use the bathrooms but they will have to carry chains,” Marshall said.
As the shutdown continues on how long the parks remain open is ultimately up in the air. And now Marshall is asking the city dwelling residents to help support gate way communities such as Three Rivers.
“It’s important to point out that our gateway communities need help. If you’re from the Valley, go up there and support Three Rivers and support the gateway communities,” Marshall said.
First term congressman TJ Cox, who was sworn in two weeks ago as Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives said last November’s election was a sign from Valley voters they want the government to work together. He noted the House’s first measure to reopen the government was a clear step toward that goal.
“The Central Valley sent a clear message in November that the time for infighting and dysfunction is over. We made clear today that we are committed to responsible government that puts the people of the Central Valley first by voting to end the Trump shutdown.
“This is a series of commonsense measures that were already approved unanimously by the Republican-controlled Senate in the last Congress. We will not hold the livelihoods of tens of thousands of families hostage to the Trump Administration’s misguided desire for an ineffective border wall,” Cox released in a statement last week.