More vehicles in Yellowstone now registered in Wyoming, park superintendent says

Posted 9/19/19

As Cam Sholly prepared to take over as Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent last year, one of the first things he did was purchase some Wyoming license plates.

“I got my license …

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More vehicles in Yellowstone now registered in Wyoming, park superintendent says

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As Cam Sholly prepared to take over as Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent last year, one of the first things he did was purchase some Wyoming license plates.

“I got my license and registration before I set foot in the park,” Sholly told Park County commissioners last month, deadpanning that, “I heard some things.”

Vehicle registrations in Yellowstone became a hot topic in recent years, with concerns raised about employee and concessionaire vehicles being plated in Montana (where registrations are cheaper) despite being located in Wyoming. It was a sore point between county commissioners and former superintendent Dan Wenk; seeing gray areas in the law, Wenk only gave up his South Dakota license plates for Wyoming ones after repeated complaints from county officials.

During an Aug. 20 discussion between the commission and Sholly — who replaced Wenk in October 2018 — Commissioner Lloyd Thiel raised the licensing issue again.

Noting that the registrations are a source of revenue for the county and state, Thiel described it as a matter of fairness. Commissioners and state officials have been particularly concerned about ensuring that vehicles owned by the park concessionaire, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, are licensed in Wyoming.

“As a business person myself, I have to pay taxes on my equipment I use for my business,” Thiel said.

In response, Sholly reported that there’s been a “substantial shift” in the number of Xanterra vehicles registered in Wyoming.

Brad Ross, Yellowstone’s Lake District ranger, said the switch started roughly a year ago.

“I’m seeing Wyoming plates on their stuff,” Ross said.

Sholly said he’s made it very clear that, “Any permanent employee, whether it be Park Service or concessionaire, that lives in Park County, lives in the state of Wyoming, should absolutely have their car registered and be licensed in the state of Wyoming.”

However, the superintendent pushed back on the idea that seasonal employees should also have to change their licenses and registrations while working a three- or four-month job in Yellowstone.

“We already have a hard time recruiting workforce in that park,” Sholly said. “The last thing I need is, ‘You’ve got to come and get a license, change your registration before you go back to South Dakota for college or wherever you’re from,’ and then add one more burden on that recruitment effort.”

Sholly also questioned the fairness of requiring temporary employees to re-register their vehicles; he noted that Wyoming doesn’t give resident hunting privileges to those who’ve only lived in the state for a few months.

State law indicates that workers must register their vehicles and obtain a license in Wyoming after spending 120 days in the state. County and Wyoming Department of Transportation staffers had made tentative plans to visit Mammoth Hot Springs as seasonal Yellowstone employees arrived in 2018, to help workers register their vehicles in Wyoming, but that idea was later scrapped.

Commissioner Lee Livingston said that in their discussions, commissioners had “made it abundantly clear … that the seasonals weren’t what we were after.” He said the board has been “more than willing” to work with the Wyoming Legislature on relaxing the requirements for seasonal workers.

“Because you’re right,” Livingston told Sholly. “... For a kid that’s coming here for three months — and I’m sure you’re [not] paying him top dollar — for them to have to register their vehicle and then re-register their vehicles makes absolutely no sense.”

As part of his argument about not unduly burdening seasonal workers, Sholly cited their importance to Yellowstone, saying the park wouldn’t function properly without them. He noted the hundreds of millions of dollars of visitor spending that the workers indirectly facilitate in gateway communities around Yellowstone.

Thiel responded that, “if we didn’t have 3 million visitors, you know, we [Park County] may not exist,” but the travelers also have an impact on the county’s infrastructure.

“The biggest reason is finances when you get right down to it,” he said of the registration issue, adding that, “I’m just repeating what our constituents that live around here are saying — it should be fair to everybody.”

Sholly agreed, but said the counter argument is that without a seasonal workforce in the park, “you suffer economically way more than you do right now.”

The superintendent indicated he would support legislation that exempts seasonal workers from the state’s registration and licensing requirements.

“I think it would be a good conversation,” he said.

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