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October 03, 2013 7:48 am

Shutdown ‘very difficult,’ says Grand Teton boss

Written by Tribune Staff

Don (left) and Seleste Dybeck of Port Townsend, Wash., were hoping to drive through the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park Tuesday morning, but found the nation’s first national park closed. Don (left) and Seleste Dybeck of Port Townsend, Wash., were hoping to drive through the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park Tuesday morning, but found the nation’s first national park closed. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

BY TOM LAWRENCE
Tribune Managing Editor

The closure at Grand Teton National Park didn’t set well with a few would-be visitors Tuesday morning, according to Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott.

 

“There’s been some attempts to blow through closures that were staffed,” Scott said.

No one was detained or charged, she said, but the atmosphere has been tense and at times unpleasant. Some people used harsh language when speaking with park staffers when they were told of the closure of Grand Teton National Park.

During a conference call with journalists, tourism officials and business owners that morning, Scott said it had been a very difficult few hours.

“Please realize, a shutdown is a very difficult thing for all of us to do,” she said.

Grand Teton, like other national parks and monuments, as well as nationally owned museums and some other federal government locations, closed Tuesday morning. Congress was unable to reach an agreement to continue to fund services deemed non-essential, forcing the closures.

The nation’s first and arguably most famous national park, Yellowstone National Park, closed at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Guests staying in accommodations or campgrounds were given until 4 p.m. today (Thursday) to leave and folks on Yellowstone roads were asked to leave immediately on Tuesday morning.

The National Park Service had 689 employees in Yellowstone. All but 160  received furlough notices, and another 45 will be furloughed after the guests have departed the park today. That leaves 115 employees in the park to perform emergency services, law enforcement and other essential functions, Nash said.

There are 1,100 concession employees working at hotels, restaurants and stores around Yellowstone, said Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash.

Employees living in on-site dormitories and eating in dining rooms operated by Xanterra will stick around until Monday when the company decides whether to keep its seasonal employees around, said Rick Hoeninghausen, Xanterra’s director of marketing and sales.

Two hotels at Old Faithful and one at Mammoth Hot Springs were the only Xanterra facilities scheduled to remain open beyond this weekend. Guests are canceling their hotel reservations, but the company is asking them to retain their reservations in case the park reopens, Hoeninghausen said.  

U.S. 191 between West Yellowstone and Bozeman, Mont., is a thruway and will remain open, but signs posted will inform folks they cannot recreate in the park.

At Grand Teton, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, a scenic road that winds through Wyoming and connects Grand Teton with Yellowstone National Park, is primarily closed, and scenic turnouts are also shut down. But drivers can drive through the park to access connecting roads, Scott said.

An average of 130,000 to 140,000 people visit Yellowstone in October. Around 54,000 were expected the first week of October, translating to roughly $5.3 million in revenue to gateway communities, Nash said.

In Grand Teton, Scott said 552 rooms and campsites were booked Monday night, and 519 for Tuesday night.

Scott said it’s unknown when the parks will reopen.

“The parks will be closed for the duration ... we are hoping that Congress will act quickly to fund the federal government,” she said.

Scott said re-opening the park will take some time.

“It will be a ramp-up process,” she said. “It’s not a turn on-the-switch approach. We do not know when appropriations will be restored. When funding returns, we will reopen the park as soon as it is practical.”

Scott, who said she has been through previous federal government shutdowns, said her staff took the park closure hard. The vast majority of them — about 200 of the 240 employees — were furloughed.

“It is devastating to morale. It is not something that any member of the National Park Service is wired to do,” Scott said. “It is our nature to welcome and bring people into the parks. This is a crushing experience to be put on furlough.”

In addition to closures at Yellowstone and Grand Teton, the Shoshone National Forest’s three district offices and the supervisor’s office are all closed until further notice, as is the BLM office in Cody.

The government shutdown also means that all campgrounds and all facilities at picnic areas on the Shoshone National Forest will be closed until further notice.

Bighorn Canyon also was included in the shutdown. All park facilities, including contact stations, visitor centers and offices, will be closed and a majority of Bighorn Canyon employees will be furloughed, according to a release.

Minimal staff will remain to protect resources, secure the park and provide law enforcement. All scheduled and permitted events will be canceled or postponed, and visitors will be vacated. Only the roads that serve as thruways will remain open.

Wyo. Highway 37, the Grapevine Creek Road, Ok-A-Beh road and Wyo. Highway 313 will remain open for local travel. Local travel is limited to people with residences along these thruways. All park access roads off these highways and roads will be closed. All access points to Big Horn Lake are closed.

NPS websites also are shut down.

 

Parks’ closure called ‘Stupid’

BY GIB MATHERS
Tribune Staff Writer

Clouds were congregating over Sylvan Pass, and the middle fork of the Shoshone River was babbling eagerly to entice visitors to Yellowstone National Park, but their enticements were in vain.
The East Gate was barred at 8 a.m. Tuesday due to the federal government shutdown.
“All entrances to Yellowstone are closed due to the government shutdown,” said Dennis Lenzendorf, East Entrance supervisor to yet another carload of people hoping to enter.
In the space of 30 minutes, 20 or so cars rolled up to the East Gate of Yellowstone only to be sent back. Visitors — mostly from out of state — treated the rangers bearing the news graciously. The visitors, like local lodge owners, blamed the politicians in Washington, D.C., for the closure.
Mario Cambos, of Los Angeles, visited Mount Rushmore Monday and was looking forward to observing Old Faithful geyser. “It’s very sad,” he said.
“Go to Cody,” Lenzendorf said, directing the driver of another car after giving them a highway map of Wyoming. “Take (Wyo.) 120 north ...”
“Stupid,” was Angela Coe’s description of the brinkmanship in the nation’s capital. The shutdown doesn’t solve any problems, she said.
Coe and her husband, Bob, own Pahaska Tepee, about five miles east of Yellowstone.
A busload of Taiwanese and Chinese tourists came to see the park, but they can’t, Coe said.
Pahaska had one stay-over, but the rest of the guests checked out. They were planning to close the lodge and cabins Oct. 13, but Coe said she was debating whether to close early for the winter.
Federal government employees are being furloughed while politicians in Washington, D.C., continue to collect their pay, she said. If locals employed in the tourist industry don’t work, they don’t get paid, Coe said.
Cody and Jackson ponied up money to get Yellowstone opened early in the spring. Closing the gates now is like a slap in the communities’ face, said Joel Baum, who owns Rand Creek Ranch, about 30 miles east of Yellowstone.
In April, the state of Wyoming and National Park Service worked together to plow the East and South Entrances. Money was raised by the Cody and Jackson chambers of commerce to cover the cost.
Mike Christiansen was mighty grateful to the community this spring for pitching in to get the park plowed when the government was in sequestration mode. That gave his operation, Shoshone Lodge, two weeks of business he wouldn’t have had, he said. Shoshone Lodge provided free cabins to some of the state employees while they were working in Yellowstone.
Christiansen planned to keep seven of his 17 cabins open until Oct. 15. After that, the cabins are reserved for his outfitting business.
“We had a great season,” Christiansen said. “It would have been nice to have a couple more weeks.”
If the federal government must close Yellowstone, the gates should remain open so folks can visit the park for free, Baum said.
“The government is out of control, and we have to live with what happens,” Christiansen said.

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