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.
Reuters
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.
x
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.
x
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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid