As I established earlier, when my work season started, the trail was closed. Forest Service employees were back there removing hazard trees, and they didn’t want civilians wandering near falling trees and chainsaws. That’s why the Forest Service threatened people caught on the trail with a $5,000 fine and up to six months in prison. But some tourists didn’t want to take no trail for an answer.
My boss told me my job is one of advising and not enforcement. Fair enough. I don’t want to be some kind of enforcer anyway. But I was not shy about advising people of the possible fine and prison sentence.
My first weekend at the campground near the trail was the one before Memorial Day. Many people, upon seeing the gate to the parking lot closed, turned into the next driveway with an open gate. That driveway belongs to the campground where I was the temporary host. My weekend (mostly on Saturday, but some on Sunday too) consisted of me repeating the following information: The trail is closed…Hazard trees…Forest Service is serious…Fine…Prison. I invited people to park in the campground and have a look at the giant sequoias (probably at least a dozen) growing in it. I told people about a scenic overlook ten miles down the road and another sequoia grove twenty miles down the road. I was polite. I was helpful. In other words, I was a camp host super hero.
Most visitors were disappointed, but understanding. Several carloads of folks did spend time in the campground. Several picnic lunches were eaten.
I think talking to someone ostensibly in authority, made people feel accountable. I guess it’s difficult for someone to say s/he didn’t see the sign when a real live person said out loud the trail is closed.
Some people managed to slip in when I was at the back of the campground cleaning restrooms. As I walked to the front of the campground, I saw a whole extended family exiting the trail. There were even more people back there, but they slipped into the trees when I hollered over, Hey! Didn’t y’all see the trail is closed?
They told me they didn’t know, as they crossed the yellow caution tape stretched across the exit. They siad there wasn’t a sign at the other entrance. (I’m 98% sure they were lying.) Well, if those other people are in your group, you might want to tell them about the possible $5,000 fine and six months prison sentence, I said as they hustled to wherever they’d left their vehicle. I’m going to tell them right now, one woman said. I didn’t ask how she planned to do that while the others were hiding in the woods.
Late in the afternoon, I saw some young folks hesitating on the legal side of the barricade. I saw them read the flyer that spelled out $5,000 and prison. I think they were just about to cross over when I called out, Excuse me. The trail is closed. One guy said he identified hazard trees for a living, implying it would be ok for him (and his friends) to go on the trail because he knew what dangers to look for. I told them I was simply advising them of the situation. They told me they were from the area, so I said they should come back later in the summer when the trail reopened. They were relieved to hear the trail would be reopened. They thought the trail had been closed for good. I assured them they would be able to visit the trees later in the summer, and if they weren’t happy when they left, they at least didn’t seem pissed off.
Early Wednesday morning, as I walked up to check the front restrooms, I saw a huge, older motor home pull into the campground’s driveway. The motor home was towing a big trailer, upon which was painted a lot of words. I couldn’t read the words because of the angle of the trailer, but the cross painted on the motor home and my previous experience led me to suspect those words were biblical scripture.
As I approached the motor home, the driver left his seat and exited the motor home through the side door. He was a clean-cut, with short hair, a totally normal looking middle-age guy. I asked him if he were looking for a camping spot. Although I didn’t know if any of the sites could accommodate such a big motor home and trailer, I figured if he wanted to camp, I’d let him look for a spot that might work.
He said he didn’t want to camp, he just wanted to walk on the trail.
I didn’t get much more than closed and hazard trees out of my mouth before he said, They can’t do that! He seemed to think because the trail is on public land, it can never be closed to the public. I didn’t want to argue with the guy, but I’m pretty sure public land can be closed to the public when there’s a safety issue.
I just gave him what had become my standard line of Well, the Forest Service is pretty serious about people staying off the trail because there’s a possible $5,000 fine or six months in prison for anyone caught out there.
They can’t do that either! the man exclaimed. My grandfather fought in a war!
My wackadoodle sensors went off. Trotting out a veteran in the family two generations in the past or equating the Forest Service cutting down hazard trees with Nazis (which I think is where he was heading) did not seem like valid arguments to me. Even if he had made a valid argument , I wouldn’t have told him he could go out there. So I just said, Sir, I’m only advising you of the situation. If you want to park your motor home, the best place to try will be in the overflow lot down the road.
I don’t know which part of what I said turned the tide, but he smiled and thanked me, got back in his motor home and drove away. Disaster averted.
My last encounter with someone who really wanted to walk the trail happened a few hours before the trail reopened. Of course, I didn’t know the trail would reopen that afternoon, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
A crew of about a dozen Forest Service guys were out on the trail, their chainsaws buzzing, when the white car pulled into the campground. I walked up, said Good morning, asked if they were looking for a campsite.
The driver was a woman in her early 50s. In the passenger seat sprawled a girl about eight years old.
The driver said she wasn’t looking for a campsite, that she wanted to park so they could walk the trail.
I told her the trail was closed, had maybe said hazard trees when someone in the backseat poked her head up from behind the driver’s seat. She was wearing big sunglasses and a big, floppy, fashionable hat.
Do you work for the Forest Service? she asked me.
No, I said, but before I could explain private company and concession from the Forest Service, she said, Yeah, well, we’re going to go on the trail anyway. She spoke in the most spoiled rich girl tone of voice I have ever encountered.
I said, Well, Forest Service guys are out there working right now, and if they see you on the trail, they might opt to give you a $5,000 fine or six months in prison.
Ms. Prissy Pants deflated. I could practically hear the waa wa wa waaaaa of a losing contestant on a 1970s game show.
I suggested another trail they could go to and see giant sequoias, but Ms. Prissy Pants said they would probably go to a different grove, which she called by name to make sure I knew she was an insider.
I said, Great! Have a nice day!
The driver asked if the campground restrooms were open, and I said they were. I walked away as she was parking, I didn’t want to have any more interaction with Ms. Prissy Pants or the people stuck with her on a road trip.
I took the photos in this post.