Is it really necessary to close off public lands that are not regularly patrolled, are leased by private companies or are simply open-air monuments? Members of the public see no reason, but since the federal government shutdown that has mostly been the reality. As Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce Director Kathleen New told the Inyo Supervisors this week, drive through Death Valley and Yosemite but don’t get out and look.
As the shutdown drags on amidst scathing public criticism, local impacts have been felt. Local Chambers of Commerce and Mammoth Tourism have taken over the load of answering tourists’ questions since federal visitors centers are closed. Lone Pine’s Kathleen New said the closure of the Interagency Visitors Center outside of Lone Pine was the “best thing that could have happened.” She said this has driven tourists into Lone Pine where shopping, dining, and lodging business has gone up. The only complaint, she said, is that tour buses are using business restrooms.
In Bishop, Tawni Thomson, Director of the Bishop Area Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, said, “It’s been all hands on deck” to answer visitors’ questions. Thomson has had to call in additional staff to get the work done. She said since the government shutdown, there has been a lot of confusion as to what facilities and roads are open or closed and what people can and can not do on public land. Orders from higher ups made local information from federal agencies nearly non-existent.
Thomson said, “We’ve been helping visitors understand and giving them alternative activities.” She said if someone wants to make a back country hike, no permits are available so Thomson and her staff show people about local climbs and hikes. Confused visitors appreciate the help. Thomson said in one case a man hugged her – he was so glad to get real information. And, in another instance, a woman was on her phone crying because the government shutdown caused cancellation of her family reunion camping trip. Thompson and staff found an alternative for them and they continued with plans in the Eastern Sierra.
The Mammoth Lakes Tourism Office has performed similar services since the federal Welcome Center closed down next door. Tourism Director John Urdi had told the Mammoth Town Council that many visitors have been very disappointed about no trip to Yosemite, but Tourism workers show them how they can enjoy their stay in Mammoth. Urdi’s staff is also setting people straight on facility and road closures.
Meanwhile, the shutdown has hurt some businesses. Owners of the Yosemite Gateway Motel in Lee Vining asked the Board of Supervisors to let them pay their Transient Occupancy Tax out over time due to the loss of business from the Rim Fire and government shutdown. That item will come back to the Mono Board for in-depth discussion.