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‘Please open our parks’

Holding a protest sign, Jordan Howard, 7, with her mother, Rachel Howard, of Cody, discuss the closure with Yellowstone National Park Ranger Brad Ross at the the East Entrance Sunday. The people assembled did not blame the rangers for the locked gates. Rather, they pointed frustrated fingers at Washington, D.C. politicians. Holding a protest sign, Jordan Howard, 7, with her mother, Rachel Howard, of Cody, discuss the closure with Yellowstone National Park Ranger Brad Ross at the the East Entrance Sunday. The people assembled did not blame the rangers for the locked gates. Rather, they pointed frustrated fingers at Washington, D.C. politicians. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

They want to get in their park.

While World War II veterans barged through barriers to visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, a peaceful crowd of around 70 or so rendezvoused at the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park demanding political leaders in D.C. listen to the people and open Yellowstone.

A like-minded group assembled at the North Gate outside Mammoth Hot Springs.

“NO BAN FROM OUR LAND,” read Powellite Kendra Hernandez’ sign.

A handful of people strolled past the closed sign to hike into the park for a few hundred yards before returning.

Two rangers were stationed near the gate, but they were not going to prevent people from walking in a ways, said Lake District Ranger Brad Ross. People have a right to express their views, Ross said.

“The park is closed, but we’re here to be friends with the people,” he said.

A handful of people have been cited for closure violations since the Oct. 1 closing, Ranger Tim Reid said. Some bicyclists broke into some housing in the park. Others insisted on hiking into the backcountry.

“And we’re not allowing that,” Reid said. “When directed, we’re be glad to re-open the park.”

It was a friendly atmosphere. Rick Satterthwaite, of Cody, one of the organizers, even brought cookies to share with the rangers.

Four kids lined up with paper signs growing soggy in the chill drizzle. “PLEASE OPEN OUR PARKS,” the combined signs read.

The children said they love visiting Yellowstone in the fall, but can’t enter now because of the partial government shutdown. The youngsters were being taught the importance of standing up to political leaders and saying the shutdown is wrong, according to their grandmother, Terri Tucker of Cody.

Satterthwaite addressed the crowd from a step ladder, and other speakers also took a step up to speak.

He asked the assembled group to sign a poster petition requesting the federal government re-open the park. Then the poster will be delivered to Washington to Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. Satterthwaite implored the group to call Enzi’s office, insisting Enzi take the poster to the Senate floor to share with his colleagues and force them to hear from the people.

Several people at the protest said the federal government does not work for the electorate. Political leaders in Washington care only about their personal power, status and triumph in the latest political battle, they said.

“We’re simply tired of dysfunctional government,” Satterthwaite said.

Last spring sequestration threatened to delay the park’s opening, and then the Oct. 1 shutdown occurred when House Republicans tried to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to alter the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Indicating the two rangers standing to the side, Satterthwaite said he is worried about a shutdown again this spring.

Many National Park Service employees are furloughed. However, Satterthwaite noted that the president of the United States and members of Congress won’t miss a paycheck, although several lawmakers, including all three Wyoming representatives, have said they will not accept their salaries. Many in the crowd raised their hands when asked if they would vote to halt the political leaders’ salaries.

“We need to let those people know how we feel,” Satterthwaite said.

His wife, Tammy Satterthwaite, said a friend of hers feels Obamacare is too costly.

“I’m embarrassed of our government right now,” said Tammy Satterthwaite.

“We the people,” said Bob Berry of Cody. “It is not we the government.”

Gov. Matt Mead, Park County state Reps. Sam Krone, David Blevins and Dave Northrup, state Sen. Hank Coe and the mayors of Powell and Cody were invited, said group member Eva Linton, of Powell, last week. However, no elected officials were present Sunday.

Political leaders in Cheyenne or Washington are indifferent to their constituents, some at the protest said. “Your government doesn’t have any respect for you,” Berry said.

Citizens must make the politicians understand the people have the power, not the politicians, he said, by attending governmental meetings and making their voice heard.

“Get off your duffs and do something,” Berry said.

The protestors lined up in front of the gate to sing, “God Bless America” while American flags fluttered from a tall flagstaff and car antennas.

As the crowd dispersed, Ross led a mother with her small children to a restroom within the park. It was a peaceful, even neighborly rally.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Ross said.

People came to express their opinion, the rangers said.

“We understand their frustration,” Reid said.

Prior to the shutdown, all Yellowstone entrances were scheduled to close for the summer Nov. 4, with the exception of the North and Northeast entrances. If orders came to re-open the park, it could be up and running in less than 24 hours, Ross said.

Gates open for the winter season Dec. 15 through March 15, except the East Gate, which is open Dec 22 to March 1. The only road open year-round to vehicles is between the North Entrance and Northeast Entrance.

After the protest wound down after about an hour, Tammy Satterthwaite was loading kids and posters into her vehicle. The turnout was good and the people’s voices on Sunday will be heard thanks to the media, she said.

“This has been fabulous,” Satterthwaite said.

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