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October 01, 2013

Happy 123rd Birthday, Yosemite -- We Wish we Could Celebrate With You

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Today, is Yosemite National Park’s 123rd birthday -- an important occasion for one of our nation’s oldest National Parks. Yosemite is among our country’s crown jewels, and voices all across the nation are wishing the park a happy birthday. Even Google updated its homepage for the special day.

Its not hard to understand why so many Americans are passionate about Yosemite. The Park covers more than 760,000 acres -- about 95 percent of which is wilderness --and draws more than 3.7 million visitors a year. Sierra Club founder John Muir described his first experiences seeing Yosemite as “a window opening into heaven, a mirror reflecting the Creator.”

Yosemite’s big day is reason to celebrate --but, unfortunately, no one will be attending it’s birthday party.  In fact, any visitors already there are being ushered out of the park. Why? Because Yosemite’s birthday falls on the very first day of the first government shutdown in seventeen years.

When the clock struck midnight last night, the federal government officially ran out of funding -- and the story of how we got to this point is an example of the Washington dysfunction that is affecting Americans all across the country. Effectively, House Republicans refused to pass routine legislation to fund the government without toxic political riders. As a result, they failed to fulfill the most basic aspect of their job: keeping the government open and working for American families.

The cost falls on everyone else. Hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country will be temporarily out of work. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will furlough 9 out of every 10 employees, leaving vulnerable Americans with almost no one to monitor pollution that could make them sick. And, our national parks and monuments are closed -- to everyone but oil and gas drillers.

American families deserve better. Yosemite deserves better. 123 years is a milestone of a birthday, marking 123 years of hikes, climbs, picnics, and camping trips. This marks 123 years of visitors experiencing spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, and Giant Sequoia groves.  

But, today, visitors won’t be able to see that opening into heaven. We won’t be able to celebrate this birthday in person. Because of these political games Yosemite and other national parks and monuments are shuttered -- and the communities that surround them are bracing for impact. Each day visitors can’t experience Yosemite has a financial cost, too, as Yosemite tourism creates upwards of $379 million in economic activity each year. The National Parks Conservation Association estimates that communities around our parks could lose business adding up to about $30 million for every day of the shutdown. That’s real people losing real money because of a Washington political crisis that didn’t need to happen.

Rather than make the American people pay the cost, House Republicans need to stop the political posturing and get back to work. In the meantime, the Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters are proud to wish Yosemite a happy birthday. This year, the milestone is bittersweet, as the park will have to celebrate alone.

--Athan Manuel, Director, Lands Protection Program, Sierra Club



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