News / USA

US Budget Cuts Force Yellowstone to Delay Opening

FILE - A car travels the newly plowed east entrance road over Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone National Park shortly after the park opened in this photo taken in May 2011.
FILE - A car travels the newly plowed east entrance road over Sylvan Pass in Yellowstone National Park shortly after the park opened in this photo taken in May 2011.
During the first full week of March every year, the mountain passes of Yellowstone National Park rumble with the sounds of hulking snow plows operated by two dozen, mostly seasonal workers. This month, the plows will be silent.

The costly and complex road-clearing operation that was scheduled to start on Monday will be postponed this year because of the U.S. government's across-the-board budget cuts known as the "sequester," which took effect on Friday.

Park managers have to trim $1.75 million from Yellowstone's $35 million annual budget, which will delay the opening of most entrances to America's first national park by two weeks. Park managers will give more details on Monday.

Local tourism industry leaders are not happy with the decision. A delay in the park's traditional early May opening and other service reductions could mean millions of dollars in lost tourism and tax revenues for small, rural towns in Montana and Wyoming.

"I think it's counterproductive, and I expect a lot of people to be raising hell," said Mike Darby, whose family owns the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody, Wyoming, at the east gate of Yellowstone.

FILE - The Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming, Sept. 2009.FILE - The Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming, Sept. 2009.
FILE - The Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming, Sept. 2009.
FILE - The Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming, Sept. 2009.
Built in 1902 by frontier showman Buffalo Bill Cody, the hotel is decorated with bison heads and hunting rifles. The business survives the lean winter months by drawing local customers to its restaurant and Silver Saddle Lounge, where cowboys meet for a beer on weekends.

A two-week delay in Yellowstone's opening means Cody will miss out on more than 150,000 visitors spending an estimated $2.3 million, according to figures released by the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. Similar shortfalls in four other gateway towns around the park could put total losses from a two-week delayed opening at more than $10 million.

Beyond Yellowstone, the National Parks Conservation Association has warned that a $110 million cut to the National Park Service budget will result in job losses and reduced services at the country's 398 national parks.

For example, the U.S. spending cuts could lead to a 20 percent reduction in spring student education programs at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, affecting 2,400 students; a two-week delay in the reopening of Glacier National Park's Going-to-the-Sun Road, which could cost $1 million in lost revenue daily to surrounding communities and concessions; and a delay in the opening of the Grand Canyon National Park's East and West Rim Drives, according to the NPCA.

"It's alarming that this very avoidable threat could become a reality. From Yellowstone to Cape Cod, the Grand Canyon and Great Smoky Mountains, our national heritage and local economies are at risk," NPCA President Tom Kiernan said in a statement on Thursday.

Grizzly Bears

FILE - A grizzly bear walks in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 12, 2011.FILE - A grizzly bear walks in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 12, 2011.
FILE - A grizzly bear walks in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 12, 2011.
FILE - A grizzly bear walks in a meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, August 12, 2011.
Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park each attracts roughly three million annual visitors who come to see grizzly bears, geysers and wide-open spaces. The two parks generated a total of $766 million in tourism spending in 2011, supporting 11,438 jobs, according to a Michigan State University analysis released last month.

If the budget cuts roll on through the summer, local business owners fear that families may decide to vacation elsewhere, which could mean disastrous losses in local tax collections for gas, food, lodging and merchandise.

"They could end up losing more in taxes over the season than what they saved with budget cuts," Darby said. "It's ridiculous."

Some tourism leaders in Wyoming are working on their own plans to raise money to plow the roads at Yellowstone, in an effort to honor the spring opening dates that many families have already planned their vacations around.

With a budget focused largely on fixed costs like fuel and salaries for key employees, there are no easy cuts to be made in Yellowstone's operating expenses.

"We really do have very few places that we can go" to cut costs, said Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. "Our workforce is made up of a lot of seasonal employees, so that's certainly a major area where we can make changes."

Plowing more than 300 miles (480 km) of high-altitude paved roads in Yellowstone takes weeks, and burns through as much as $10,000 worth of diesel fuel each day.

Waiting for warmer weather to help clear some of that snow is expected save about $250,000 in plowing costs, Superintendent Dan Wenk told Darby and other gateway community business leaders this week in a conference call to outline planned cuts.

A further $1 million in savings will come from not hiring replacements for some departing permanent workers. Wenk expects to save an additional $500,000 by reducing the seasonal workforce and through travel and training reductions.

In Jackson, Wyoming, at the southern boundary of Grand Teton National Park, business owners are pushing to get the word out that the parks and surrounding areas will be open for business this summer, despite the cuts.

But budget cuts mean that three popular visitor centers in Grand Teton will not open at all this summer, said park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.

Since many maintenance workers and other seasonal employees carry out double duties as on-call firefighters, paramedics or search-and-rescue workers, payroll reductions will mean fewer emergency responders in the park this summer.

"We will do our best not to allow those reductions to impact the safety of our visitors and employees,'' Skaggs said. "But the reality is our response capabilities will be reduced."

In staunchly conservative Wyoming - where legislators just cut most state agency budgets by 6.5 percent despite virtually no state debt and more than $15 billion in savings - the across-the-board federal cuts are raising questions.

Residents who depend on tourism for a living are already complaining to the state's all-Republican congressional delegation, which is on record as supporting the cuts if it means the alternative is raising taxes.

"I'm sorry, but in how this is affecting us, it doesn't seem to me like it's fiscally responsible," Darby said. "Somebody needs to refigure this, or we need to get better advocates."

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs