Thousands of people found themselves inside a national park when the government shutdown went into effect. Pat Vaillancourt and her tour group “which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States, were locked in Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard.”
The seniors were treated harshly by armed park employees until they were able to leave according to Vaillancourt. Once they began the journey out of the park, “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 was on a nine day tour of western parks “with about four dozen senior citizen tourists.” As her bus stopped to take a picture of some bison, “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.”
As they approached the Old Faithful Inn located next to the famous Old Faithful geyser, she could see barricades around the geyser and the seniors were locked inside the Inn with armed guards.
“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.”
The driver of the tour bus eventually brought his group to a full-service bathroom after the 2.5 journey out of the park. The bus attempted to stop at an in-park dude ranch to let the tourists use the bathroom, but the 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.”