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Occupy Yosemite Protest Scheduled for Friday

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Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.
Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.  | Photo: Daleberts/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Republican Congressman Paul Cook represents a lot of public land, from Joshua Tree National Park to Lake Tahoe. And in between, up the Eastern Sierra, are a lot of jobs that depend on the tourism those attractions create. Too bad a government shutdown has closed national parks and raised lots of questions about access to national forests. Although Cook yesterday voted for the Open Our National Parks and Museum Act -- post shutdown legislation to fund national parks -- there's at least person who is ready to vote him out of office, and she hopes to convince a lot of people of the same.

"We are a little bit pissed off up here," said Stacey Powells, news director for Eastern Sierra radio stations KMMT and KRHV. "We have to stand up to this. Enough is enough."

Powells, who is based in Mammoth Lakes, is planning an Occupy Yosemite event this Friday. Participants will enter the park from its eastern terminus in the Tioga Pass and stage a sit-in at Tuolumne Meadows, knowingly risking citation. Highway 120 is one of the few roads open in the park for travel-only purposes. All other activities are considered illegal.

"How can we get these people in Washington to get to pay attention to what they are doing?" she asked. "I vote for voting all of them out of office in 2014. All of them." She said she has the support of the Mono County Board of Supervisors and that one will even be joining her in the protest.

Mono County is located in the Eastern Sierra. Skiing is a major economic contributor during the winter with Mammoth and June mountains, but its off-season economy gets a major boost from Yosemite's only eastern entrance in the Tioga Pass, which closes when the snow falls. The road is also a critical artery for residents seeking quicker access to other of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Not all is lost, though. A cautiously optimistic John Urdi of the Mammoth Lakes Convention & Visitors Bureau is making the best of the situation in the short term. Yes, there are cancellations, but others booted from Yosemite hotels and campsites are making new reservations. But how long the carryover will last is anyone's guess.

"From our standpoint, it's tough," explained Urdi. "We have a lot of people coming here, they have Yosemite on their bucket list, and, unfortunately, their trip has been rerouted and we're accommodating."

Urdi's team, ousted from the shared-use Inyo National Forest visitor center (it also closed yesterday), opened up their office next door in the interim. Their website has a special page full of things to do -- fall color viewing, hiking, mountain biking, and this weekend's June Lake Autumn Beer Festival -- during the government shutdown. Additionally, because many of the national forest campgrounds are run by concessionaires, they remain open. Urdi's team is maintaining an accurate list.

Yosemite and Mammoth have had some tough moments over the past two years. Last year, national attention was drawn to the park over several deaths related to the hantavirus. This summer, smoke from the Aspen Fire dumped into Mammoth Lakes. Then Yosemite experienced the Rim Fire, one of the largest in California's history. Now the government shutdown, which began yesterday on Yosemite's birthday. (Today is Redwood National Park's 45th birthday, by the way)

Stacey Powells' protest is not the first time someone has suggested occupying Yosemite National Park. In 2011 during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement someone tried to rally the troops, with no apparent success. Friday's protest might actually work.

Occupy Yosemite is scheduled for Friday afternoon. Powells says to meet at the Tioga Mobile Mart on Highway 120 at 1 p.m. Then participants will caravan into the park. "They cannot take away our access to our national parks which are on public lands," she said. "They can't use this as a bargaining chip."

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