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Authorities used “Gestapo tactics” on senior citizens visiting Yellowstone National Park, locking them inside their hotel under “armed guard” during the Obama administration’s government shutdown, according to a guide.
Officials even refused to allow the tourists to stop for bathroom breaks during the two-and-a-half hour drive out of the park, he said.
Gordon Hodgson spoke in a telephone interview with the Livinston, Mont., Enterprise about the 41 tourists he took into the nation’s first national park, in the northwest corner of Wyoming, on a trip scheduled before the shutdown.
Park officials told him they were allowed to stay their scheduled two nights at the historic Old Faithful Inn, but they could not do anything, Hodgson said.
Nevertheless, he said he took the group out for a drive in the park, and he pulled over to let passengers take photos of the park’s native bison.
A ranger showed up immediately.
“She told me you need to return to your hotel and stay there,” Hodgson told the Enterprise. “This is just Gestapo tactics. We paid a lot to get in. All these people wanted to do was take some pictures.”
He said the group then was threatened with trespassing charges.
“The national parks belong to the people,” he said. “This isn’t right.”
Park spokesman Al Nash defended the actions in an interview with the Enterprise.
“We don’t have staff on duty to deal with any ordinary operational issues,” he said.
When the park is closed, everything is closed, he said.
“All we could do was eat dinner in the dining room. It was like a ghost town,” Hodgson said.
One member of the group, Pat Vaillancourt of Newburyport, Mass., told her local newspaper, the Newburyport News, that even while they were allowed to stay in the Old Faithful area, they were watched.
There were barricades around Old Faithful, and the seniors on the tour were locked inside the hotel, where armed rangers stayed at the door, she said.
“They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed,” she told the newspaper. “They told us you can’t go outside. … Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”
Vaillancourt affirmed the guide’s description of the confrontation with the ranger.
Vaillancourt described how the armed ranger confronted the tourists and ordered them back into their bus, saying they couldn’t “recreate.”
The guide, who had paid a $300 fee to bring the group into the park, said they weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos.
“She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt told her newspaper.
The park service has been all over the news during the partial federal government closure for erecting barricades at the otherwise open and accessible military memorials on the Washington Mall. World War II veterans who traveled hundreds of miles to visit, for example, were told they were not allowed on a public sidewalk there to see the memorial.
Members of Congress personally got involved, taking down the barricades, although they were brought back, with wire to tie them together, according to reports.
It was there that an angry park ranger affirmed the Obama administration has given instructions that the shutdown impact be made as painful as possible for the American public.
“We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”
The Enterprise in Livingston, which is a gateway city to Yellowstone, reported the gift shops, stores, rest rooms and visitors centers in Yellowstone were closed, and the tour group, when it left the park, was not allowed to stop at rest rooms along the way.
“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” Vaillancourt told the News. “It was like they brought out the armed forces. Nobody was saying, ‘we’re sorry,’ it was all like — ” as she clenched her fist and banged it against her forearm.
Vaillancourt told the News the foreign visitors on the tour where shocked.
“A lot of people who were foreign said they wouldn’t come back (to America),” Vaillancourt said.
Meanwhile, CBS in Philadelphia reported a marathoner, John Bell, 56, was ticketed for running in Valley Forge National Historical Park.
He said he parked in an unblocked parking lot and found two rangers waiting for him with their car lights flashing when he returned. He said he plans to fight the $100 ticket.
A dog therapy program, which arranges for dogs to visit patients in hospitals, including children with cancer, was suspended by the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health.
The exclusive gyms available only to members of Congress apparently have been deemed essential and are staying open.
The House gym in Washington includes a swimming pool, basketball courts, paddleball courts, a sauna, a steam room and flat screen TVs. The Senate gym also is open. Meanwhile, a gym for congressional staff members has been closed.
NBC reported the federal government is withholding a $100,000 payment to the families of five soldiers killed over the weekend in fighting in Afghanistan.
“It is upsetting because my husband died for his country, and now is family is left to worry,” said Ashley Peters, whose husband, Jeremy, was in the Army’s 4th Military Police Battalion.
A Head Start program in Chicago was closed, and state officials threatened the layoffs of state workers because of the ongoing budget calamity.