“We have reached our $100,000 (fundraising) goal,” Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody chamber of commerce, told the Park County Travel Council on Thursday at its March meeting.
“We want people to know the park is going to open on schedule,” Balyo said. “We’re open for business, and I think that is the important story to tell.”
The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce raised $70,600, said Executive Director Jeff Golightly. The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board paid $56,000 of that total, while the chamber put up $14,600, Ruffin Prevost reported Friday on YellowstoneGate.com.
WYDOT crews will plow both gates and push into Yellowstone’s interior, and Park Service personnel, commencing from the opposite directions, will rendezvous with state crews. Once the plowing is completed, the Park Service will maintain the roads when more snow falls, Balyo said.
The department will begin plowing at the East Entrance between April 1 and April 8. The Park Service will begin at Fishing Bridge April 29.
Efforts by locals to unlock the gates on schedule has attracted media attention from across the country, such as the newspapers Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.
“The Los Angeles Times will arrive in Cody March 26 (today),” said Council Director Claudia Wade.
Television crews also are telling the story. CBS will provide coverage when WYDOT crews start plowing Yellowstone roads.
The partnership between the state and locals to overcome the setback is the story, Balyo said.
On March 4, Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said the National Park Service would delay plowing two weeks to save money due to budget cuts caused by federal sequestration. The East Entrance would have opened May 17; the South Entrance was slated to open May 24.
To prevent that delay, the Cody and Jackson chambers of commerce decided to raise the money to pay for Wyoming Department of Transportation equipment to plow the roads from the East and South entrances respectively. Gov. Matt Mead authorized the use of WyDOT equipment if the two communities paid the cost. Wenk agreed to allow state-operated equipment in Yellowstone.
The Cody chamber’s board of directors agreed to match half of the $100,000 cost to plow the East Entrance if others raised the rest. The chamber received more than 60 contributions ranging from $10 to $10,000. Money raised included $1,000 from a Powell resident who responded when Balyo’s email was forwarded by the Powell chamber of commerce.
Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, also was instrumental in the local effort. Coe met with Balyo the day after Wenk’s announcement, then Coe called Gov. Matt Mead.
Mead arranged a conference call March 6 with the Park Service, Cody and Jackson representatives, Park County Travel Council, Wyoming Office of Tourism, WyDOT and others to find a solution.
Fast action was pivotal.
“That call was critical to the success of this,” Balyo said Friday.
Balyo organized Cody’s money-raising effort for plowing Yellowstone’s East Entrance and raised the money in five business days.
“Congratulations Scott, for hustling and getting right on it,” said Dave Bonner of Powell, who recently joined the Travel Council.
“Very impressive job,” said Council Chairman Rick Hoeninghausen.
The point of the effort was not just eliminating the two-week delay, but retaining travelers’ confidence. The solution was for potential visitors to stick with their plans to visit Yellowstone and its gateway communities. Yellowstone visitation affects the entire state because visitors traverse Wyoming to get there, Balyo said.
More than 11,000 travelers entered the east gate during the first two weeks of the summer season in 2012. A two-week delay would have cost Cody an estimated $2 million in tourism-related revenues and taxes, Balyo said, using service figures.
To help get the word out, the Wyoming Tourism Board will launch a nationwide advertising campaign when plowing begins, said Sandy Newsome, the board’s Cody representative.
Sequestration will cause no shortage of law enforcement rangers. Wenk’s proposals to cut $1.75 million included delaying plowing by two weeks, not filling some permanent job openings and shortening seasons for seasonal workers, said Yellowstone Park Spokesperson Dan Hottle.
The drive to finance plowing has been successful, but if a big snow storm comes, delays could still occur, Wade said.
When discussing spring road openings, the operative words are “weather permitting,” Hottle said.
Balyo said this will not set a precedent. It is a one-time-only operation using state equipment and local funding to open Yellowstone gates.
A solution to plow to the Northeast Gate outside Cooke City, Mont., is under discussion, Balyo said.
YellowstoneGate.com reported there appears to be less interest in funding a private plowing effort in Montana, based on a statement by West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce Marketing Director Jan Stoddard.
According to the Park
Service, roads will open, weather permitting, as follows:
• From West Yellowstone, Mont., and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful, Friday, April 26. That is a week later than the traditional opening.
• Norris Junction to Canyon Junction; Canyon Junction to Fishing Bridge and Fishing Bridge to East Entrance (Sylvan Pass), Friday, May 3. That is on schedule.
• Fishing Bridge to Grant Village to the South Entrance, Friday, May 10. That is on schedule.
• Tower Junction to Tower Fall and Cooke City to Chief Joseph Highway (U.S. 212 to Wyo. 296), Friday, May 24. That is one week late.
• West Thumb Junction over Craig Pass to Old Faithful, tentative after May 24. That is a week late.
• Tower Fall to Canyon Junction (Dunraven Pass), tentative early June. Usually Dunraven is opened around the last week in May or the first week in June.
• Beartooth Highway between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Mont., Friday, June 14. Traditionally, the opening is the last weekend in May.