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Year in Yosemite: The Housing Crisis - Explore

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Year in Yosemite: The Housing Crisis

Tent cabins at Camp Curry, Yosemite National Park. Photo courtesy Delaware North Campanies.

If the idea of living inside Yosemite National Park sounds enchanting, I can tell you now that the key to accomplishing this feat can be summed up in one word…housing. The challenge? There isn’t any…or at least any that hasn’t been spoken for.

If you work for the park service, chances are you live outside the park. If you work for the concessionaire but you have children, chances are you live outside the park. If you are a private citizen and don’t own gobs of Berkshire Hathaway stock, chances are you live outside the park.

So what are all those homes I see on the valley floor, you ask? They belong to two groups of people. The first is park service employees who are deemed "required occupants." That means that they are essentially on call 24/7. So if you are a law- enforcement ranger -- the type who patrols the roads, or works in search and rescue, or arrests the drunk and disorderly -- you live inside the park. If you are a firefighter, you live inside the park. If you are the superintendent or the chief ranger, you live inside the park.


Ranger's house in Yosemite. Photo courtesy Jon Jay.

But if you are an interpretive ranger, the type of ranger who gives the walks and talks, you live outside the park. If you work in administration, you live outside the park. If you work in forestry, you live outside the park. If you are an archeologist, you live outside the park. If your area of expertise is trail building or sound control or education, you live outside the park. In other words, most park-service employees live outside the park.

The other group living inside the park is the concessionaire’s employees -- not all of them, just those in management and those who are willing to live in dorms (which is what makes it tough to house families).

So how did my husband, daughter, and I manage to live here? For one, we don’t live on the Yosemite Valley floor. We live in a teeny-tiny village where private home-ownership is allowed. But even here, housing is virtually non-existent. We’re only here because once I knew there were public schools in the park, nothing was going to deter me from my mission.

I began searching for a home in Yosemite last May. My goal was to be moved in by the time school started in mid-August. Since I’d just been in the park on a travel-writing assignment, I started with the people who played host during our stay, the concessionaire. In Yosemite’s case it’s a family business (one that’s two billion dollars strong) called Delaware North Companies (DNC). They are the people responsible for filling the beds and the restaurants in Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, The Ahwahnee, and the Wawona Hotel.

They instantly took to the idea of my living in the park with my family and writing about it. For a week, their top guns sought out housing for us. After seven days, the call came through: "The only housing we can locate is a tent cabin in Curry Village. There’s no kitchen, no bathroom, no heat or indoor plumbing, and one of you would have to work for DNC to qualify to get it."

"Um, no thanks." (Believe it or not, many DNC employees are ecstatic to get even this most basic of housing as it means they can live in the valley and avoid a long commute to work.)

Clearly this was not going to be as easy as I’d hoped. After ruling out Foresta and Yosemite West –- too much snow, too tiny, too far from our daughter’s school –- I took the advice of a DNC employee and zeroed in on Wawona.

It’s lovely here –- far from the hustle and bustle of the valley floor, close to the south gate so getting out of the park is not the time-consuming ordeal it is when you live on the valley floor. There’s a school, a library, and a vibrant, welcoming, interesting population. There’s only one problem. And you’ve probably guessed it. There is no housing.

If you want to buy, you have to wrap your mind around the fact that two-bedroom/two-bath cabins go for about a million dollars. People who own homes (which have usually been passed down in families for generations) either use them themselves or rent them for between $400 and $750 a night during high season.

So what’s a girl to do? In our case, we compromised. We knew somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody who agreed to let us use their cabin, but we move out every time they, or their friends, want to use it. And I don’t mean "pack a suitcase and hit the road" moving out. I mean "empty the cupboards, the refrigerator, dressers and closets" moving out.

Is it fun? No. Do we do it so we can be here? Yep. Are we hoping to win the lottery so we can buy that two-bedroom/two-bath? You bet.

Still want to live in a national park? The park superintendent’s job is open and that house is amazing -- comes with everything including a view of Half Dome and indoor plumbing.

-- Jamie Simons

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