City shuts down Sequoia Shuttle for summer

Even if national parks reopen, Visalia Transit cannot maintain social distancing during bus trips, at bus stops

VISALIA – There’s no reason to shuttle people to Sequoia National Park just to turn around and head back without ever stepping off the bus.

That’s why the city of Visalia announced it has shut down the Sequoia Shuttle for the 2020 summer season. Even if the parks reopen, Visalia Transit manager Angelina Soper said the city of Visalia will not restart the shuttle this summer.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The National Park Service and the City of Visalia have decided that the Sequoia Shuttle system will not have a 2020 season,” Soper said. “While the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are closed, it’s been determined that when the Parks re-open, we will not be able to safely move passengers using the shuttle system within the limitations of the current CDC recommended social distancing and safety standards.”

Almost one million visitors were transported within the Park in the 2019 season through Visalia Transit’s Sequoia Shuttle, with thousands more utilizing the Shuttle from pick-up and drop-off points in Visalia and the surrounding foothill stops.

“In addition to budget constraints due to park closures, the volume of passengers we serve is not conducive to effective social distancing. Limiting the number of riders on the buses would still leave hundreds of passengers huddled together at bus stops, so we have chosen to act in the best interest of public health and safety,” added Soper.

For those who purchased gift certificates for the 2020 season, Visalia Transit will honor them during the next open Sequoia Shuttle season. For additional information or questions, call 877-BUS-HIKE or visit www.sequoiashuttle.com.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks remain closed until further notice, including developed areas of the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument. Campgrounds at Sequoia and Kings Canyon will remain closed at least through June 7 and possibly longer, depending on guidance from the local, state and federal governments. Highway 180 remains open for pass-through traffic to access Giant Sequoia National Monument and private property but all other roads and parking facilities are closed to vehicle and pedestrian traffic and to parking.

“We are reevaluating our capacity to re-open park campgrounds on a case-by-case basis, in keeping with current public health guidance,” the parks’ website states.

For information from the National Park Service on re-opening, the COVID-19 pandemic, information or Park alerts, call 559-565-3341 or visit www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit.

Crystal Cave

The closure of the parks due to COVID-19 also affected other tourist attractions. Sequoia Parks Conservancy, official nonprofit partner of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, announced last month that it has closed Crystal Cave for the 2020 season due to concerns of the coronavirus.

“Due to the sensitive ecosystem of Crystal Cave, the required sanitation procedures are not possible. Also, the narrow pathways and tight spaces throughout the cave do not allow adequate physical distancing measures,” the nonprofit said in a May 15 statement.

Crystal Cave is the second-largest of 275 known caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and the fourth largest in California. At just over three miles of surveyed passageway, this remarkable marble cave has been open to the public for tours since 1940.

The conservancy also announced the cancellation of the Dark Sky Festival. The festival aims to educate visitors about the importance of the night sky and inspire them to take action in their own communities. Sequoia Parks Conservancy is looking forward to a 2021 Dark Sky Festival if conditions allow. Please follow Sequoia Parks Conservancy on social media for updated information and to learn how you can enjoy and protect the night sky in your own community. The Dark Sky Festival is the largest astronomy festival in Central California, drawing crowds of several thousand throughout the weekend at multiple locations throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. This year’s festival would have been the seventh annual since first held in 2014.

National Forest

But it’s not all bad news for outdoor enthusiasts.

The Sequoia National Forest is increasing access to the public by providing additional developed recreation opportunities. Trials, trailheads, and general forest areas remain accessible for public use but most campgrounds have been closed through June.

“We are working with our concessionaire, California Land Management, along with state and local partners to determine the best path forward to safely open closed sites,” the U.S. Forest Service stated on its Sequoia National Forest page. “Protecting our visitors and employees remains our highest priority.”

In a normal year, it takes several weeks to open a campground and prepare picnic areas. This work includes removing hazard trees, brushing and sweeping the roads, cleaning sites, fire rings, restrooms, and turning on and testing water systems.

Those who travel near rivers and lakes across the Forest are advised to use extreme caution, especially anyone with young children. Fed by snow melt, water temperature is very cold, flowing swiftly and unpredictable.

“We encourage visitors to check our website and social media pages for the most up-to-date information on what is open before you plan your visit,” the website stated.

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