Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Snowplay is back! The Wolverton Snowplay Area is accessible due to the reopening of Sequoia National Park.

Sequoia-Kings Canyon open with basic visitor services

John Elliott / Sarah Elliott


At 8 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 11, visitors began to enter the parks once again after a complete closure that began Wednesday, Jan. 2. But the holiday visitor momentum had been interrupted; during the first few hours there were only a couple of dozen carloads that entered either at the Ash Mountain (Sequoia) or Big Stump (Kings Canyon) entrances. 
Public information personnel and other administrators still remain on furlough so the opening was approved Thursday, Jan. 10, and initially announced at a park employee association potluck gathering in Three Rivers.
Christie Brigham, acting superintendent of Sequoia-Kings Canyon, said that since the January 2 closure, park staff had been working diligently to come up with a plan to reopen the parks. The reopening was set in motion Monday, Jan. 7, when the National Park Service was given the okay to use Federal Land and Recreation Enhancement funds (entrance fees) to bring several dozen furloughed employees back to work in order to restore accessibility to the parks. 
During normal operations, parks that charge entrance fees retain 80 percent of those revenues and use the funds for  maintenance projects, visitor services, wildlife habitat needs, law enforcement, and recreation projects, while the remaining 20 percent goes back to Washington, D.C., to be distributed to parks that don’t charge entrance fees. Because national parks are now using the fees for operations, there is a huge system-wide maintenance backlog that will be affected.
During the nine days that the parks were closed to the public, personnel dealt with issues of overflowing trash cans, human waste, vandalism, and resource damage that occurred during the holiday onslaught of visitors that numbered in the thousands while only a dozen or so employees were working.
As of January 11, there are 70 park employees on the job. That number includes the skeleton crew that has remained on the job throughout the shutdown (since December 21). 
Among the lessons learned from the understaffed partial shutdown over the holidays was that staff is critically needed to inform park visitors what’s open, what’s not, and also  of safety concerns when entering the park during winter weather.
“We are allowing visitor access while protecting the health and safety of visitors and protecting park resources,” Brigham said. “The current level of staffing is what we would be working with during a typical winter season.”
Brigham said park staff will keep all the restrooms open, plow roads, and de-ice the Sherman Tree and Grant Tree trails, but still cannot collect entrance fees during the shutdown.
Visitor services remain limited due to the lapse in federal appropriations. But here is what is open and what’s not:
—Potwisha (Sequoia foothills) and Azalea (Kings Canyon’s Grant Grove area) campgrounds are open and fee free. 
—All outdoor landmarks are as accessible as the winter weather and snowpack allows them to be.
—Visitor attractions that are normally closed this time of year (Crystal Cave, etc.) remain closed.
—Restrooms are open.
—Visitor centers are closed.
—Entrance stations are open, staffed, and providing a point of contact but no fees are being collected. 
—All park concessions have reopened: Wuksachi Lodge, John Muir Lodge, Lodgepole Market, and the restaurants at Wuksachi and Grant Grove.
—All park rules and regulations apply; visitors are responsible for knowing the protocol and will be cited if found in violation. Dogs are not permitted on park trails or anywhere off leash. Off-road vehicle travel is illegal. Littering is illegal. Camping must be in accordance with all regulations. Barbecue and wood fires are allowed only in a designated area at campgrounds or picnic areas. Parking is allowed in parking lots or roadside turnouts only.
“We could not have reopened without the efforts of so many and a great management team,” Brigham said. “Our saving grace at Sequoia-Kings is that we have great employees who are passionate about their jobs and these parks.”
Chains are required by California law when traveling in mountain areas during the winter. Chains must be in the vehicle to enter Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks. 
Visitors are advised to call (559) 565-3341 for current road conditions, closures, and updated weather information.
How to visit responsibly
—Carry out any and all trash. Even if there are trash receptacles available, consider carrying out anything you bring in. 
—If you planned to camp, consider alternative lodging options, if possible. If not, clean up after yourself, and pack your own toilet paper, and only camp in designated areas.
—Respect signs and follow the rules. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks exist to protect fragile ecosystems and natural wonders that cannot be replaced. 
—Follow Leave No Trace principles, which can be summarized as be prepared, clean up after yourself, and use common sense.
—Consider donating to the parks. Since the National Park Service isn’t collecting park fees right now, consider making a donation to the Sequoia Parks Conservancy, the local national parks foundation (www.sequoiaparksconservancy.org).
Employee relief
Governor Gavin Newsom has announced that the California Employment Development Department has been directed to provide unemployment insurance benefits to federal workers in the state who have been furloughed or are working without pay due to the ongoing government shutdown. 
On Thursday, Jan. 17, Governor Newsom met with and offered state assistance to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees and other workers impacted by the federal government shutdown in Sacramento.