The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Featured Story

October 8, 2013

'Gestapo' tactics meet senior citizens at Yellowstone

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. — Pat Vaillancourt went on a trip last week that was intended to showcase some of America’s greatest treasures.

Instead, the Salisbury resident said she and others on her tour bus witnessed an ugly spectacle that made her embarrassed, angry and heartbroken for her country.

Vaillancourt was one of thousands of people who found themselves in a national park as the federal government shutdown went into effect Oct. 1. For many hours her tour group, which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States, were locked in a Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard.

The tourists were treated harshly by armed park employees, she said, so much so that some of the foreign tourists with limited English skills thought they were under arrest.

When finally allowed to leave, the bus was not allowed to halt at all along the 2.5-hour trip out of the park, not even to stop at private bathrooms that were open along the route.

“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” said Vaillancourt, who grew up in Lawrence. “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 took part in a nine-day tour of western parks and sites along with about four dozen senior citizen tourists. One of the highlights of the tour was to be Yellowstone, where they arrived just as the shutdown went into effect.

Rangers systematically sent visitors out of the park, though some groups that had hotel reservations — such as Vaillancourt’s — were allowed to stay for two days. Those two days started out on a sour note, she said.

The bus stopped along a road when a large herd of bison passed nearby, and seniors filed out to take photos. Almost immediately, an armed ranger came by and ordered them to get back in, saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The tour guide, who had paid a $300 fee the day before to bring the group into the park, argued that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” just taking photos.

“She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.

The seniors quickly filed back onboard and the bus went to the Old Faithful Inn, the park’s premier lodge located adjacent to the park’s most famous site, Old Faithful geyser. That was as close as they could get to the famous site — barricades were erected around Old Faithful, and the seniors were locked inside the hotel, where armed rangers stayed at the door.

“They looked like Hulk Hogans, armed. They told us you can’t go outside,” she said. “Some of the Asians who were on the tour said, ‘Oh my God, are we under arrest?’ They felt like they were criminals.”

By Oct. 3 the park, which sees an average of 4,500 visitors a day, was nearly empty. The remaining hotel visitors were required to leave.

As the bus made its 2.5-hour journey out of Yellowstone, the tour guide made arrangements to stop at a full-service bathroom at an in-park dude ranch he had done business with in the past. Though the bus had its own small bathroom, Vaillancourt said seniors were looking for a more comfortable place to stop. But no stop was made — Vaillancourt said the dude ranch had been warned that its license to operate would be revoked if it allowed the bus to stop. So the bus continued on to Livingston, Mont., a gateway city to the park.

The bus trip made headlines in Livingston, where the local newspaper Livingston Enterprise interviewed the tour guide, Gordon Hodgson, who accused the park service of “Gestapo tactics.”

“The national parks belong to the people,” he told the Enterprise. “This isn’t right.”

Calls to Yellowstone’s communications office were not returned, as most of the personnel have been furloughed.

Many of the foreign visitors were shocked and dismayed by what had happened and how they were treated, Vaillancourt said.

“A lot of people who were foreign said they wouldn’t come back (to America),” she said.

The National Parks’ aggressive actions have spawned significant criticism in western states. Governors in park-rich states such as Arizona have been thwarted in their efforts to fund partial reopenings of parks. The Washington Times quoted an unnamed Park Service official who said park law enforcement personnel were instructed to “make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”

The experience brought up many feelings in Vaillancourt. What struck her most was a widely circulated story about a group of World War II veterans who were on a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II memorial when the shutdown began. The memorial was barricaded and guards were posted, but the vets pushed their way in.

That reminded her of her father, a World War II veteran who spent three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

“My father took a lot of crap from the Japanese,” she recalled, her eyes welling with tears. “Every day they made him bow to the Japanese flag. But he stood up to them.

“He always said to stand up for what you believe in, and don’t let them push you around,” she said, adding she was sad to see “fear, guns and control” turned on citizens in her own country.

1
Text Only
Featured Story
  • Oklahoma Bombing Vide_Hass.jpg Man claims tampering in case over bombing videos

    Trentadue says the agency is refusing to release videos that show a second person was with Timothy McVeigh when he parked a truck outside the Oklahoma City federal building and detonated a bomb that killed 168 people. The government says McVeigh was alone.

    July 29, 2014 2 Photos

  • flood watch.tiff UPDATED: Garfield County under flash flood watch

    Rainfall chances start in earnest tonight, with an 80 percent chance after 2 a.m. that increases to 90 percent Wednesday and Wednesday night. Flooding in streets, ditches and low-lying areas could be possible.

    July 29, 2014 7 Photos

  • storm_W.jpg Storm victims face dilemma: accept loans or reject them

    The tornadoes, flooding and hail that struck Oklahoma last year left hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, causing many home and business owners to seek help in the form of low-interest federal loans.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • Quilts_4_BH_W.jpg History of an art form

    Woven amongst the fabric, patterns and stitches in the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center’s newest special exhibit are stories of past generations.

    July 27, 2014 3 Photos

  • Academy.jpg State prisons expand their reach to train new officers

    On a recent day, a class in the McAlester program was filled with the sounds of bodies thudding onto thick, rainbow-colored pads held together by duct tape, along with heavy breathing and tapping as cadets indicated they’d successfully been subdued.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • FortStillFacility.jpg FBI: No arrests yet in scam targeting migrant kids

    Con artists use private information about the children to contact their family members and demand payment for bogus processing and travel expenses needed to reunite the kids with their relatives. Families with migrants in Texas and Oklahoma have been targeted.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo 4 Stories

  • Child Tax Credit_Hass.jpg House votes to boost child tax credit for some

    With nearly all Republicans voting in favor and most Democrats opposed, the bill cleared the House by a vote of 237-173. The White House threatened to veto the bill, though the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to pass it.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Oil-Covered Owls_1_JN.jpg Caretaker: One of 2 oil-covered owls has died

    Jean Neal and her husband, Jim, of Fairview, have been caring for the owls since Tuesday, July 22, 2014, when they received them from Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which is investigating the incident and the death of several other birds found at a neglected oil field tank site.

    July 25, 2014 2 Photos

  • Virginia Storm_Hass.jpg 2 dead, dozens hurt after storm at Va. campground

    "All hell broke loose. We got an emergency message on a cellphone and within 30 seconds, the thing hit and it blew down 40, 50 trees in the park." — Joe Colony, who has been coming to the campground for 30 years

    July 24, 2014 7 Photos

  • money.jpg Affordable Care Act 80/20 rule will provide refunds to many Oklahomans

    According to Alex Kotran, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Oklahoma residents will get $6.7 million in refunds from health insurance companies this summer.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
AP Video
Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating
NDN Video
Weird 'Wakudoki' Dance Launches Promotional Competition Two women barely avoid being hit by train Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth
House Ads
Facebook