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              Grand Canyon National Park Ranger Jason Morris surveys traffic backed up at the closed park entrance on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 in Ariz.  More than 400 national parks are closed as Congress remains deadlocked over federal government funding.  (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

‘Gestapo tactics’: Yellowstone park rangers held tour group captive

A Yellowstone tour guide accused the National Park Service of using “Gestapo tactics” while shutting down the park, after armed rangers locked a group of terrified senior citizens inside their hotel for many hours to prevent them from visiting nearby attractions.

The Lawrence, Massachusetts Eagle-Tribune reports that the rangers also prevented the group from taking pictures of wildlife and from stopping at a rest facility during their departure, forcing seniors to wait well over two hours before using the restroom.

“We’ve become a country of fear, guns and control,” said Pat Vaillancourt, a Massachusetts resident who was on the tour last week. “It was like they brought out the armed forces.”

When the government shutdown took effect on October 1, Vaillancourt’s group of about four dozen senior citizens had just arrived at Yellowstone. Although many tourists were already being shuttled out of the park, rangers allowed the tour a two-day extension due to their prepaid hotel reservations. What looked like a generous exception, however, soon turned into a nightmare.

As the bus made its way into the park, the group stopped to take pictures of a large bison herd passing nearby. Vaillancourt said that a ranger quickly appeared, ordering the tourists to stop “recreating” and return to the bus.

When the group’s tour guide protested, the ranger became angry. “She responded and said, ‘Sir, you are recreating,’ and her tone became very aggressive,” Vaillancourt said.

“We paid a lot to get in,” said tour guide Gordon Hodgson, who was interviewed by the local Livingston Enterprise. “All these people wanted to do was take some pictures.”

The seniors were sent to the Old Faithful Inn, a ritzy hotel located next to the famous Old Faithful geyser. Immediately upon their arrival, armed rangers locked the inn’s doors and stood guard outside to prevent the group from visiting the geyser, which was already barricaded.

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

“All we could do was eat dinner in the dining room,” said Hodgson. “It was like a ghost town.”

On October 3, after many hours under quarantine inside the lodge, the senior citizens were piled onto a bus for the 2.5 hour ride out of the park. Although the tour guide had planned a brief stop to allow the seniors to comfortably use the restroom, threats by the park service to pull the facility’s operating license if they catered to tourists forced the group to wait until outside the park’s borders.

Hodgson blasted the park service for their “Gestapo tactics.”

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

Park closures due to the shutdown have sparked a nationwide uproar, with many claiming that the park service is deliberately making the process difficult for political purposes. In a move reminiscent of the senior citizens’ ordeal in Yellowstone, a popular inn renting federal property in North Carolina was blocked by patrol cars, killing business during peak season and forcing 35 employees from their homes.

Vaillancourt said that many of the overseas visitors to Yellowstone were appalled by the park service’s thuggish behavior. “A lot of people who were foreign said they wouldn’t come back [to America],” she told the Eagle-Tribune.

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