Yellowstone should phase out in-park housing

Submitted by Steve Torrey
Posted 1/21/20

Dear Editor:

I met Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley in his office located at the northwest corner on the first floor of the park’s Administration Building in June of 1996 to discuss …

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Yellowstone should phase out in-park housing


Dear Editor:

I met Yellowstone Superintendent Mike Finley in his office located at the northwest corner on the first floor of the park’s Administration Building in June of 1996 to discuss access issues. I met with Superintendent Cam Sholly regarding access issues in January of 2020 in his office at the northeast corner of the same building on the third floor. Inside, the building had been completely remodeled at a cost of who knows what. While the lavish changes to the building were obvious, some things in Yellowstone never change.

Like his predecessors, Superintendent Sholly bemoans a backlog of “deferred maintenance” estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. A May 16, 2019 article in the Powell Tribune reads, “… employees live in substandard housing, including old, moldy trailers.” according to Sholly.

In a May 16, 2019, article in the Cody Enterprise, Sholly states: “We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the workforce, including housing. That is going to be the No. 1 priority for me as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.”

If the National Park Service can’t properly maintain existing housing, why build more? It’s as if the NPS does not want the maintenance backlog to disappear, but rather use their ginned-up estimate to leverage additional funding from an obliging Congress to be squandered in the usual, never changing, wasteful manner. Sholly would not say what percentage of the “deferred maintenance” involved housing.

When I suggested busing employees to and from work as a problem-solving change, our conversation rapidly headed south. I struck a nerve. Sholly stated, “That’s ridiculous. How am I supposed to bus 4,000 employees?” Well, the same way one would bus 4 million visitors, I suppose.

Busing employees would lessen roadkill wildlife on highways outside the park, as one vehicle would take the place of many. Think about the number of times Mammoth residents — park employees and their dependents — drive to Livingston or Bozeman, Montana, on their days off for goods and services not available locally. Currently, there is one daily bus shuttling employees from Livingston.

Many aspects of in-park housing are ridiculous, such as the acres and acres of manicured lawns. Lawns are a food source attracting elk which damage property and injure people during rutting and calving seasons. Federal lawns are expensive to maintain, spending money that could otherwise be put to “deferred maintenance” projects. The resident Mammoth elk herd is also expensive to maintain during the rut, when federal labor is figured in to babysit tourists.

Phasing out in-park housing could turn residents into honest people. A sharp eye on the housing reveals bird feeders and barbecue grills next to porches and stairways, and volleyball nets tied to live trees, all citable offenses at a campground. Lest I forget to mention the widespread non-compliance of federal law 36 CFR 4.2(a)(b) requiring park residents to register their personal vehicles in Wyoming.

Picture a park ranger leaving for work in the morning walking to a toasty-warm idling patrol car passing by a barbecue grill, a bird feeder and his or her out-of-state registered car all the while dodging grazing elk in the yard, then driving to the Mammoth campground across the street to issue citations for petty offenses. This behavior is the embodiment of ridiculous.

Come this spring when the East Gate Road is plowed and cleared of snow, maybe Sholly will open it to the public as he and I had discussed, instead of its usual three week pre-season exclusive use by privileged, law breaking park employees.

Steve Torrey