Yosemite National Park is not Disneyland.
That doesn’t stop people from doing stupid things.
Nor does it deter them from suing when things go wrong.
It is why the biggest threat to the public accessing national treasures such as Yosemite might be the ferocious species known as class action lawsuit lawyers.
Back in June, deer mice triggered a hantavirus outbreak in Curry Village. When the extent of the problem became known by September three park visitors had died and others were sickened. Also in September, the website www.YouHaveALawyer.com started trolling for clients for a potential class action lawsuit. A blog entry contended “it appears that Yosemite officials may have known or should have known, about the risk of problems at the park, but failed to protect campers.”
Whoa. The “park” isn’t a Hilton resort. It’s nature. It’s not the park rangers’ job to go around exterminating rodents. Actually they’re supposed to protect the rodents as much as possible against the intrusion of man. Yosemite is the turf of the deer mice, not man’s domain.
It doesn’t matter to lawyers and those who need to blame someone else for their predicament.
That is why it is no surprise the first lawsuit was filed by a Southern California woman by the name of Cathy Carrillo. She insists she got sick with the virus while staying in Curry Village in June. She wants $3.25 million for the ill effects of semi-communing with nature. She contends she has $1 million in medical bills and suffers from diminished lung capacity and low energy.
Her lawyers put the blame on deer mice being allowed to nest in the walls of the newer insulated tents at Curry Village. The mice apparently were drawn by food that guests brought with them.
Carrillo, to her credit, isn’t suing Yosemite National Park per se. Instead the lawsuit is aimed at DNC Parks and Resorts that operates Curry Village concession including the tent rentals.
It is an interesting lawsuit in that by renting tents the concessionaire is essentially running a hotel operation. One wouldn’t tolerate mice in a Best Western. And if as a guest you got sick from some virus they were carrying while staying in the room you certainly should be entitled to seeking financial damages.
It may sound warped but if Carrillo prevails it will play into the hands of those environmentalists who want all of the tent cabins to disappear. It would effectively wipe out the majority of affordable quarters for those visiting Yosemite who want to stay overnight and don’t have their own camping equipment, an RV, or can’t get a room in the Yosemite Lodge or the pricey Ahwahnee Hotel.
And while you don’t expect to go to a national park and get sick or die, it is still the wild.
Ever see people head to the Mist Trail who aren’t even prepared for what is arguably one of the easiest hikes in the park that isn’t on the valley floor? They go out in the heat of summer without water. They wear flip flops. They let little kids wander off to the edge of the rushing Merced River.
And they feed the squirrels, often having them eat out of their own hands, despite repeated warnings not to do so. Why? Squirrels — like other rodents — carry diseases and can have rabies. Should visitors have to restrain their behavior or should it be expected that rangers cull wildlife for those that are diseased or carry viruses?
Fourteen people died last year in Yosemite who essentially didn’t heed warnings. Most of them got too close to the Merced River sitting or walking on smooth, slippery rocks. Still others actually climbed over rails installed and posted with warning signs not to cross. There are only a handful of such rails located in the 761,268 acres that make up Yosemite National Park.
One hates to see people hurt and killed by bad judgment or because they are emboldened by the fact that walking on rocks looks 90 times safer than some of the stuff that makes its way onto MTV programs such as “Ridiculousness.” That’s the show where people are captured mostly by cell phone videos getting hurt in bonehead stunts.
If you go to Disneyland you should expect to get off rides such as the Matterhorn safely and not contract some deadly disease before leaving the park.
When you go out into nature, it is at your own risk. The fact the tent cabins are operated as a hotel concession muddies the water a bit but the bottom line is it's nature. As such by venturing into Yosemite you should willingly accept things that can kill you whether it’s a virus carried by wild animals or slipping off the edge of a trail.
If you can’t accept that risk, vacation in Disneyland’s Frontierland and stay out of the real wilderness.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 249-3519.