During the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, the board discussed agenda item 7A- a discussion of Tioga Pass and Yosemite Reservation System Restrictions.
The item centered around the National Park Service’s decision in 2022 to close Tioga Pass for all traffic through Yosemite National Park from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for travelers who have a Yosemite National Park reservation.
Jeff Simpson, Mono County Economic Development Director, addressed the problems that this has caused for travelers.
“From our department’s standpoint, the reservation system is not complementary to tourism and economic development; however, we do understand the need for it,” said Simpson.
Simpson’s request for the board is to ask Yosemite National Park to return to previous regulations of allowing travelers who are not stopping to visit the park to be allowed to pass through it, regardless of reservation status.
Simpson also requested for the park to return to a 6 a.m to 2 p.m. time window for reservations, instead of from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. “We’ve heard from our lodging partners that a lot of people were unable to get over the park after that 4 p.m. timeframe to get to their hotel, and were just canceling and moving onto another destination because of that,” said Simpson.
“We’re concerned about the visitor experience for the people who don’t have reservations- those are the people stuck at the gates, unable to travel through and continue onto their destination, or who had no idea about the reservation system and may be coming from Europe or other places around the world. Those are the negative visitor impacts that we’re hearing about mostly,” said Simpson.
The Board then opened up to provide feedback to Simpson’s requests.
Supervisor John Peters, who brought the issue to the board, spoke first: “I speak a lot with businesses, especially the 395 corridor businesses in Northern Mono County, and the consensus that I’m hearing is that the impact is probably around 30% in reduction of business due to the lack of visitors that would be here to go to Yosemite… if you have somebody who does come to stay overnight- and they don’t have a reservation because they didn’t think they needed one- then they have to get up at 6 a.m. to drive through the park. And they aren’t eating at any of the restaurants along the corridor or buying their sandwiches or whatever because nobody is open that early for that to happen. And the ones who enter the park after 4 p.m., well they’re no longer extending out to Lee Vining, and then Bridgeport, and then finally Walker- they’re not even getting to Walker. The numbers are significantly down… I think there’s a way to find a middle ground of sorts, to advocate that Yosemite National Park perhaps looks at ways to manage flow of traffic into the valley, while not having a hard closure so that someone without a reservation can still drive through the park during the summer season. We’re not going to continue to take economic hits year after year and be able to survive on this east side. And this needs to be a conversation we have in advance of when the 2023 policy is instituted.”
The owner of Tioga Gas Mart Dennis Domaille then spoke during public comment: “We’re at ground zero of this problem. We get a couple thousand people every day passing through the store. A few hundred can’t get through because of the reservations. We need to deal with how this affects the international travelers- these are people that got up early in the morning in either Las Vegas or Zion National Park and they’re heading through Yosemite National Park to check into their hotel over on the other side of the Sierra. A few are stopping in Lee Vining. But even the ones stopping in Lee Vining who made it to their destination in a timely manner have to get up and through the gate by 6 o’clock in the morning to continue their journey. They’ve already been traveling for 5 hours. These are people who have rented cars, booked hotel rooms, eat every meal out, are buying gasoline, buying tourist trinkets, who have planned this trip for months, and then show up in Lee Vining and find out that their whole trip just got disrupted. They have to be in San Francisco in a day or two and they can’t get through the park unless they wait around until 4 in the afternoon. Then they have to get in line up there, go through the traffic, and by then they just want to check into their hotel rooms and can’t even enjoy what they see…I strongly suggest to the Park Service that, if you’re an international traveler with a passport, you should be allowed to come through any time you want. They’re the people spending money and paying the salaries of everybody in here. They’re the ones that we really need and really want.”
He concluded: “The people who get stopped at the park and can’t go through, their negative experience far outweighs the positive experience people have of having less people in the park; those people, they’re pissed. So I would like to see Mono County draft a resolution to the Park Service that asks, as a park entity, to change the reservation system.”
Bob Gardner chimed in to say that the County needs actual, hard data to back up all of these claims before presenting any request to the National Park- the argument can’t be solely anecdotal. “I also don’t believe that an international traveler doesn’t go online to the Yosemite National Park website and see ‘reservations required’ before they travel. I would like to mention, too, that a lot of the reservations were used up this year by local residents, who booked them, and then did not use them. Period. That’s a problem,” said Gardner.
The Mono County Local Transportation Commission (LTC) will meet with Yosemite National Park on Thursday, October 12 to discuss the matter further, and potentially draft a request on behalf of the county for the park to change its reservation restrictions.