The dramatic Tioga Pass road provides access to Yosemite from the eastern Sierra region along Highway 395. Tioga closes each winter. In the spring the National Park Service opens it after checking for avalanche danger, turning on the park’s wastewater treatment services, and reopening the visitor center. But the federal budget standoff may change the park's plans.
"With the potential sequestration we would have to delay the beginning of operations, which could potentially postpone the opening of the road by at least a month," says Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman.
And that possibility makes the mountain tourist towns along Highway 395 to the east nervous.
"They live and die by the opening of that road," says Gediman.
Southern Californians feed those communities tourism dollars – and a drop off in traffic to Yosemite could have a devastating ripple effect on business. Gediman says he’s hearing from lots of anxious hotel owners in towns along Highway 395. He remembers one call in particular.
One hotel owner calls frequently. Another put the impact in stark terms, according to Gediman. "He said to us on the east side of the sierra, when it’s closed, in the winter, Yosemite is nothing. But in the summer, Yosemite is everything," he recalls.
This year’s dry winter may provide a silver lining to this story. The Tioga Pass historically opens earlier after a dry winter. So even if sequestration forces a delay in the reopening of the road, it might not be for too long.