Marek Warszawski

Welcome to Yosemite National Park. Mind the trash – and be sure to bury your poop

Hear from Yosemite visitors during the government shutdown

The government shutdown hasn't stopped people from visiting the country's national parks. Here's what a few visitors had to say at Yosemite on Jan. 2, 2019.
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The government shutdown hasn't stopped people from visiting the country's national parks. Here's what a few visitors had to say at Yosemite on Jan. 2, 2019.

Welcome to Yosemite National Park, crown jewel of America’s national parks system. We’re a little short-staffed these days, so we won’t be collecting the usual entrance fee.

Yup, it’s your lucky day. That $35 stays in your wallet. Until the politicians back in Washington, D.C., get their act together – and no telling when that’s going to be – everybody gets in free.

Sounds wonderful, right? It is … at least until you pull into a roadside turnout and see garbage cans overflowing with trash along with coffee cups and candy wrappers strewn all over the place.

Sorry, that can’t be helped. Even though our Starbucks has remained open during the government shutdown – and ‘tis always the season for venti mochas – the park’s maintenance crew is among the 800,000 federal employees stuck at home twiddling their thumbs.

Which means there’s more trash than usual. Our volunteers, well-meaning and dedicated as they are, can only do so much. Expect park visitors to pick up after themselves or pack out their own litter? That’s a laugh.

I advise keeping your eyes off the ground and trained on all those towering granite cliffs. The piles of trash may be tall, but they’re not as tall as El Capitan. Yet.

Joanne Pederson and Debbie Furnari of Santa Clarita take a photograph of Yosemite Valley at Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. A day after a holiday, and during the federal budget shutdown, Furnari said she “hasn’t seen the park so uncrowded.” Paul Kitagaki Jr.

What’s that? Your kids need to go to the bathroom? Oh, boy. I mean, OK. That does present a little bit of a challenge, since our visitors centers and most of the latrines are closed, as well.

A couple remain open – look for the long line of people near Lower Yosemite or Bridalveil Falls – but they haven’t been serviced in awhile, leaving them dirty and smelling pretty gross. Tell them to take a deep breath before going in.

If they need to go Number One, it’s really not a big deal to walk a little ways into the forest and find a suitable tree. Even a dead one will do. But please don’t use that strategy for Number Two. Not unless you brought a shovel and are prepared to dig a hole, at least 2 feet deep, to bury the poop and used TP.

That asking too much? Well, sorry. Then tell him to hold it until you get back to Mariposa.

What about Oakhurst? Unfortunately, you can’t get there during the shutdown. We had to close up the southern entrance from Highway 41, except to those with reservations to one of our lodges with the generic, trademark lawsuit-approved names. Gotta keep some of the money flowing in.

Yeah, that sucks for people living in Fresno or those wishing to go to Badger Pass … err, the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. It can’t be helped. Uncle Sam has our purses tied.

With the first snow, Yosemite Valley presents a tranquil winter-like scene for visitors, such as Massachusetts native Jasmine Scalli, and foraging wildlife, like a coyote in its thick, full coat, hunting in a meadow.

You think it’s bad here? Don’t bother visiting our sister parks to the south, Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The crowds and dirty conditions got so bad that rangers there barred the gated and are refusing to let anyone in. That is, unless you’re headed to one of the Christian camps at Hume Lake. Then it’s OK to pass through, for some reason that’s well beyond my pay grade.

Who’s at fault, you ask? That depends on your political leanings.

If you think President Trump is a swell guy and agree wholeheartedly that we need $5 billion to build a wall to keep out all the undocumented immigrants, even though most of them get here by plane, then blame the Democrats. By all means. It’s your right.

But if you recall Trump saying a couple weeks ago, during a tete-a-tete with Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, that he is “proud to shut down the government,” “will take the mantle,” and “I’m not going to blame you for it” then you’ll likely form a different conclusion.

Yes, I realize Trump says the exact opposite on Twitter. Do you expect the president of the United States to be consistent?

Either way, Yosemite and all the national parks are just pieces in a political game of checkers. You think it’s just coincidence Trump made his first appearance in the White House media briefing room on the same day Pelosi became speaker of the House?

While trash and poop may be the most visible signs of the shutdown, there are other ramifications. School kids can’t go on field trips and attend outdoors programs. Researchers can’t study ecosystem changes and monitor wildlife. And without those entrance fees, the deferred maintenance tab continues to grow.

In times such as this, America’s best idea is held hostage by our own worst tendencies – both political and human.

Once again, welcome to Yosemite. Hope you enjoy your free visit.

Images of the problems with human waste and trash due to a partial federal government shutdown are seen on social media.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.