SALISBURY — In the course of a few hours, Pat Vaillancourt’s trip to Yellowstone National Park went from being a story in her local paper to a national lightning rod that had radio and television stations, newspapers and ordinary Americans from coast to coast talking about her and seeking her out.
Vaillancourt’s story, reported in Tuesday’s Daily News of Newburyport, touched a raw nerve that has been on many Americans’ minds these days — the shutdown of the federal government. It also demonstrated a dynamic change in how Americans interact — how quickly the “viral” world of social media and the Internet can catapult one person’s story into the eyes of millions.
The Salisbury resident was on a tour bus trip last week with about four dozen other senior citizens, visiting national parks and Western sites. Among the stops was Yellowstone, where the group arrived a few hours before the government shutdown began.
Like all national parks, Yellowstone furloughed most employees, leaving in place only essential personnel such as law enforcement rangers. The rangers were tasked with shutting down the park and making sure that visitors left.
Vaillancourt and her tour guide, Gordon Hodgson, reported intimidating encounters with armed rangers, particularly at a park hotel where the senior citizens stayed for two days. Hodgson accused the park service of “Gestapo tactics.” The park service has strongly denied that it treated visitors unprofessionally or that it stationed rangers at park hotels and required guests to remain inside. It did admit that its rangers were armed, but said they were law enforcement officers and therefore are typically armed.
For Vaillancourt, the past few days have been a whirlwind of national attention.
“I’ve been getting calls from all over the country,” she said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t return them all.”