In what seemed like something out of a police state from Nazi Germany or the former Soviet Union, a new report has emerged that in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown, armed park employees engaged in what a tour bus driver called “gestapo tactics” after prohibiting tourists from leaving the park .
The incident was reported by the Newburyport Daily News, which related the tale of Pat Vailancourt, who along with others had taken a tour bus to Yellowstone National Park prior to the government shutdown that began on Oct. 1.
The News reported that Vailancourt, one of thousands of people across the country who found themselves in a national park when the shutdown officially went into effect. However, rather than simply being told to leave the park after the shutdown commenced, she, along with other members of her tour group which included senior citizen visitors from Japan, Australia, Kamala in the United States were detained and locked in a Yellowstone National Park hotel under armed guard for several hours.
The tour was reportedly treated so harshly by armed park employees that some of the foreign tourists that possessed limited English skills believed they were under arrest.
Vailancourt said when the bus was finally allowed to leave, it was not allowed to halt anywhere along the 2 1/2 hour trip out of the park, including stopping for the private bathrooms that were open along the route.
“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” Vailancourt said. “It was like they brought out the armed forces. Nobody was saying, ‘were sorry,’ it was all like –“ as she clenched her fist and banged it against her forearm.
At the time of the incident Vailancourt was taking part in a nine-day tour of Western parks and sites along with approximately four dozen senior citizen tourists. One of the tour highlights was Yellowstone National Park, which they arrived at just as the shutdown went into effect.
Following the shutdown, Rangers systematically sent visitors out of the park while allowing some groups such as Vailancourt’s which had hotel reservations to stay for two days. However she noted that it was apparent from the start that their stay would not be an amicable one and was apparently done by park officials under protest.
When the bus stopped along the road to observe a large herd of bison that were passing nearby so that seniors could get out to take pictures, an armed park ranger immediately came by in order to get back in the bus saying they couldn’t “recreate.” The News reported that the tour guide, who just a day before had paid a $300 fee to bring the group into the park argued with the guard that the seniors weren’t “recreating,” they were just taking pictures.
After returning to the Old Faithful Inn where they were staying, the seniors were subsequently locked inside the hotel with armed rangers staying at the door. On Oct. 3 they were finally allowed to leave.
To date the park service has not responded to questions about the incident, however most of them are unavailable due to the furlough.