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US Tourist Towns Assess Shutdown Damage

US Tourist Towns Assess Damage From Shutdowni
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October 16, 2013 11:24 PM
Tourist communities near U.S. national parks have been hurt by the partial government shutdown. In Mariposa, California, near Yosemite National Park, residents hope the shutdown of the past two weeks will not be repeated. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports on the situation.
Related video report by Mike O'Sullivan
Mike O'Sullivan
Tourist communities near U.S. national parks have been hurt by the partial government shutdown. In Mariposa, California, near Yosemite National Park, residents hope the shutdown of the past two weeks will not be repeated.

At a coffee shop near the edge of town, customer Dan Palo waits for his morning coffee. He is a regular here and he said this coffee shop lost a lot of business.

“Actually, the town has been dead. There is hardly anyone here," he said. "I usually come in here and have to wait 30 minutes for my coffee because it is full of tourists waiting to go into the park.”

The town was mostly left to the local residents and a handful of  tourists, when Yosemite National Park closed in the government shutdown October 1. Other national parks and some federal monuments later re-opened with temporary funding from state governments, including New York's landmark Statue of Liberty.

But California officials refused to intervene.

At a resort that is whimsically called the "Yosemite Bug" in nearby Midpines, California, co-owner Douglas Shaw said the shutdown left most rooms empty.

“We are running about five percent of normal, and we let go of about 70 percent of our staff,” he said.

He added that business in his restaurant slowed to a trickle.

An Australian family is finishing breakfast in an empty dining hall, and visitor Ghiselle Lawler says it is hard to understand how a major national park could close its gates.

“People are coming to your country willing to spend money and look at things," said Lawler. "The last thing you should be shutting is your parks.”

The losses are hard to assess. Mariposa county supervisor Kevin Cann said the shutdown cost local hotels $2 million per week in lost business, and the county government loses another $200,000 a week in taxes on that income. He said losses to restaurants, shops and other businesses make conditions even worse.

“We feel we are being held hostage in places like this, in all of the gateway communities around any federal area," he said. "We are being held hostage by Congress's inability to do their job.”

Cann said this community has dealt with many kinds of hazards.

“Floods, fires, rock falls," he said. "We have contingency plans for all of those. We do not have a very good contingency plan for a government shutdown.”

Coffee shop owner Bret Ticehurst said the mood around Yosemite has been bleak. “There is just massive frustration in town, from everybody's perspective, I guess,” he said.

Hotel owner Shaw said he does not think Congress should have the power to close the federal government, which he said provides needed services. And he has a question.

“Is this shutdown going to happen every six months? Is it going to happen every year?” he asks.

The people near Yosemite National Park say they hope not.

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