A National Park Of Your Own And Nowhere To Go

During the shutdown of the national parks, park employees can't explore areas generally open to the public, such as the Upper Geyser Basin at Old Faithful. Kurt Repanshek file photo.

Imagine Yellowstone National Park as your own private backyard...and you're not allowed to explore the landscape. That, in essence, is the situation employees of the National Park Service and of concessionaires find themselves in.

"The functions that are closed to the public are also closed to employees," Brad Ross, the park's Lake District ranger, said during a phone call. "So, if you are an employee at Lake, you can’t go hiking the trails. You can’t go up to Mud Volcano and look at the thermal springs and mud pots, things like that.

“The people are kind of limited to functions that you do to maintain. So, any employee or contractor that’s in the park, they are allowed to drive their vehicle to go out to surrounding communities to go to their doctors’ appointments, get groceries, and that kind of stuff. But they’re not allowed to drive around the park," he said.

At the end of the work day, or on their days off, employees are largely restricted to where they live in Yellowstone, the ranger explained.

"If they go for a run, they’re allowed to go for a run from their residence area, but it’s restricted to five miles away," Ranger Ross said. "So they’re not able to go run a trail, but they can run along the Grand Loop Road.”

The ranger, who lives at the park's East Entrance, worked the entrance gate there the day after the parks closed to specifically explain the closure to visitors who had hoped to enter Yellowstone.

"I’m actually pretty impressed with people. I know that anybody that showed up was very upset, because this did impact a lot of people’s vacations," he said. "We had several groups that had flown in from China to come and see the park. We turned away people that were both local and the foreign traveler. The Tennessee traveler. A lot of people.

"I think that at first a lot of people just had confusion on what they could or couldn’t do and whether we could allow them to go in," Ranger Ross went on. "But then, when they understood where things were and what we had going on, then most people were, I don’t know if 'understanding' is the right word for that, but they at least knew that it wasn't something that we had any control over. Very few people put the blame on our individual workers.

"And I think that the kind of things that people were saying is what you’re seeing on most of the news outlets. People are more saying that it’s unfortunate that we’re in this and wished that it could all be resolved and we’d be open.”

Comments

More arbitrary madness. They can run five miles from their homes? What is magic about five? Why not 4.92 or 8.88? Heck those folks are living in homes that have operating and maintenance expenses paid by the government. They should be thrown out. Not really, but that is the logic being used elsewhere.

Ec - I agree that these restrictions sound arbitrary, but I'd guess they are a well-intentioned effort to avoid people claiming the employees are being given preferential treatment by "enjoying" unrestricted use of the park while the public is shut out. If a reporter got wind of a ranger and his family out hiking the trails, enjoying a picnic miles from home, etc. the media and some politicians would have a field day with that one. Protection division rangers are required as a condition of employment to stay in good physical condition, so a 5-mile radius for a run seems to be a reasonable number.

As to "those folks are living in homes that have operating and maintenance expenses paid by the government," many people don't understand that park employees pay rent to their employer for their government quarters, and in some locations, that rent is pretty darn high. At least during the years I'm familar with, that rent money went into a designated account for maintenance of those residences, so at some of that maintenance expense wasn't from the appropriated funds involved in the shutdown. Did that account sometimes need help from other funds? Possibly, if major repairs were needed.

Not sure how you define "operating" expenses, but in all cases I'm aware of, employees pay their own utilities, shovel their own snow, cut their own grass, etc.

And finally, for quite of those few employees living in the park (and paying rent to uncle Sam instead of having the chance to put equity into their own home), that's a condition of employment, not an option. The reason: so they are close at hand when an emergency arises - or when a visitor has a question at 2 a.m. that just can't wait until morning.


I agree that these restrictions sound arbitrary


Not only "sound" but are arbitrary. Is the 5 mile radius only for the protection division and everyone else has to stay inside? Isn't your description of the employee housing the same arrangement as Pisgah?

I am not advocating throwing these folks out. I am merely pointing out that many of the closures have just been arbitrary decisions - and in my opinion, many have been done just to inflict pain.

Roosevelt Arch and Mammoth are 5 miles apart.

Agreed.

"and in my opinion, many have been done just to inflict pain."

Only problem is, you still try to be a mouthpiece for the right wing talking point - absolutely malignantly false - that the domestic terrorists you apologize for didn't want or create this pain. Like this mouthbreather.... Check any poll. Your false message is not sticking.

That specious 'opportunity to negotiate' over the proposal to reopen the NPS was after the terrorists took the nation hostage. Why negotiate with criminals?

The 5 mile radius--like plenty of our laws/regs--is to some extent arbitrary, but why it that necessarily a problem?


Why negotiate with criminals?


Its exactly that attitude that has brought us to this impass.

Concessionaire employees would have to abide by similar rules as Park Service employees. Xanterra's memo to their Yellowstone employees told them they were restricted to their work locations and were not to recreate per NPS policy. The employees were told that they could use the Rec Halls.


-like plenty of our laws/regs


Except that isn't the law or reg. There is no real "problem" it just shows how much people are making things up as they go along. Either the employees shouldn't be there at all, or the park should be open to everyone.

Is your issue, then, the arbitrariness of the distance given by the restriction ("What is magic about five? Why not 4.92 or 8.88?"), or that there is a distance restriction at all ("Either the employees shouldn't be there at all, or the park should be open to everyone")?

It should be all or nothing. It doesn't cost the govt any more or less if someone goes 5 miles or 500 miles. But my issue isn't with the distance at all. It is with the arbitrary application of the "shutdown".