Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle
Image 1 17
When it comes to those swept up in the problems that come with a government shutdown, there are always some who get overlooked.
Take, for instance, Katherine Ogilvie, a small-business owner in Mariposa. Ogilvie owns Traditional Craft Kit, a company that creates educational crafting kits for the National Park Service, supplying 57 national park stores across the country — all of which came to a grinding halt on Dec. 22.
“I’ve been a businessperson ever since I graduated college, so I try to solve the problem,” Ogilvie said to SFGATE. “That’s when I saw someone doing GoFundMe. I had never done that before, I had only heard about it, and I saw all these people legitimately suffering and they don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent, and my perspective is, ‘How am I going to keep my business going, and how can I pay for my bills and my life?'”
Struggling to keep up with bills, Ogilvie is part of the trickle-down effect of the government shutdown, impacting her livelihood. She is also part of a region that specifically depends on the government in direct and indirect ways: via its national parks. In Mariposa County, where Ogilvie resides, the towns closely tie their economy to Yosemite, and a government shutdown — or any interruption to the park — has a much larger effect than one could imagine.
According to reports by the National Park Service, in 2017 alone, visitors to Yosemite National Park spent $451.7 million in the towns surrounding the park, whether by staying at a hotel or patronizing a businesses. By NPS’s calculations, that spending, in turn, supported 6,666 local jobs, for a total boost of $589.3 million to the local economy.
But what has also uniquely impacted the surrounding communities of Yosemite, besides the shutdown, were two years of wildfires that closed areas of Yosemite during the peak summer tourist season.
“When that park closes, everything stops in Mariposa County,” said Mariposa County Supervisor Kevin Cann. “When they lost their profit for the year [in 2018] by losing 3 1/2 weeks, almost 4 weeks in the peak of the peak income time, July and August, and people are finding ways to make ends meet. Now you have a shutdown that has nothing to do with the Department of Interior or anything that goes on with the National Park Service.”
In 2017, the area was hit with the South Fork and Empire fires, which burned 7,000 and 8,000 acres, respectively, in the summer. Last year, the Ferguson Fire began on July 13, forcing the closure of parts of the park, and burning close to 97,000 acres before it was contained over a month later on Aug. 18.
And if that $589.3 million figure from 2017 seems large, consider this: In 2016, without interruptions to business from wildfires — or government shutdowns — that same figure ballooned to $686.3 million, according to the National Park Service. According some we spoke to, tourism in the summer months can equal up to as much as 70 percent of the county’s revenue for the year.
The county is dealing with a double whammy from 2018: Not only was the area forced to deal with a fire that left burned acres and cancelled hotel reservations in its wake, and the loss of revenue that entails, but now the shutdown is seeing a different sort of problem. While Mariposa hasn’t been completely left out in the cold without any tourist revenue — some visitors are in town to take advantage of the free entrance into Yosemite — but now, a large percentage of the county is dealing with the loss of income from the National Park Service, and essentially being (temporarily) unemployed.
“I’ve seen an influx in tourism because it’s free, so I think the word got out,” said Tara Schiff, economic development specialist with Mariposa County. “But the big issue is the park employees and the word in town is the effect on our local economy with a high percentage of the community members not having their salaries for this long period … the trickle down will be on our local market and possibly even the propane business and all the utilities that support the area.”
With such a large percentage of the county relying on the government, it’s understandable that some of the residents are starting to “fray” a bit, as Cann put it.
“We take a financial beating from the fire, but everyone understands that’s Mother Nature, that’s where we live, that’s how those towns are grown, we can’t necessarily stop that,” said Cann.
“But government shutdowns are 100 percent avoidable,” Cann continued. “It’s not just the government employees that are affected; there’s a much wider trickle down. Yosemite is an economic generator when you look at the deliveries and the supplies and the suppliers — it’s a big deal.”
“There are a lot of communities throughout the country like Mariposa,” Schiff agreed. “There’s West Yellowstone right outside Yellowstone National Park in Montana. There’s the area right outside Grand Canyon. When you have very small rural communities that are dependent on a national entity, and then you have a government shutdown, it’s going to impact that area severely.
“We just want things back to business as normal,” she added.
The county is stepping up where it can. Following the shutdown, national parks, including Yosemite, became littered with both trash and human waste on park property. Residents took on the task of cleaning it up, forming volunteer groups to gather trash in the park and dispose of it in town. County officials sent trash services to pick up about 140 trash cans on park property over the span of two weeks. Now that the trash issue is under control, locals are hoping that the stream of tourists will continue … and that the shutdown ends soon.
“My overall feeling about it is I would hope that our government would make decisions about protecting people without hurting people,” said Ogilvie of the shutdown. “It’s kinda ironic that this is all about protecting us, and it’s actually hurting us.”
Start receiving breaking news emails on wildfires, civil emergencies, riots, national breaking news, Amber Alerts, weather emergencies, and other critical events with the SFGATE breaking news email. Click here to make sure you get the news.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/government-shutdown-Mariposa-County-small-towns-13524182.php.