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

    Video Somali, AU Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    Somalia’s Western backers frustrated over country’s slow progress in establishing its armed forces to bring security after 25 years of chaos

    Israel Makes Push for Gaza Strip Recovery

    After years of economic blockade and attempts to disable Hamas, Israeli leaders eventually realized that Hamas’ downfall could lead to chaos or the rise of a more radical Jihadist group

    Slump in Chinese Tourists Hitting Hong Kong Retail

    Mainland Chinese account for up to three-quarters of visitors to Hong Kong, but that number is falling, and shopping centers are struggling to 'shift gears' and maintain sales

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shababi
    X
    Henry Ridgwell
    April 28, 2016 4:20 PM
    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Bangladesh Targeted Killings Spark Wave of Fear

    People in Bangladesh’s capital are expressing deep concern over the brutal attacks that have killed secular blogger, and most recently a gay rights activist and an employee of the U.S. embassy. Xulhaz Mannan, an embassy protocol officer and the editor of the country’s only gay and transgender magazine Roopban; and his friend Mehboob Rabbi Tanoy, a gay rights activist, were hacked to death by five attackers in Mannan’s Dhaka home earlier this month.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.
    Video

    Video West Urges Unity in Libya as Migrant Numbers Soar

    The Italian government says a NATO-led mission aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from Libya to Europe could be up and running by July. There are concerns that the number of migrants could soar as the route through Greece and the Balkans remains blocked. Western powers say the political chaos in Libya is being exploited by people smugglers — and they are pressuring rival groups to come together under the new unity government. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Russia’s TV Rain Swims Against Tide in Sea of Kremlin Propaganda

    Russia’s media freedoms have been gradually eroded under President Vladimir Putin as his government has increased state ownership, influence, and restrictions on critical reporting. Television, where most Russians get their news, has been the main target and is now almost completely state controlled. But in the Russian capital, TV Rain stands out as an island in a sea of Kremlin propaganda.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Town Receives Refugees but Lacks Resources

    A wave of refugees is pouring into the Kurdish town of Afrin in northern Syria as a result of fighting between rebel forces and Islamic State militants. VOA’s Amina Misto went to the town and reports local authorities are finding it difficult to cope with this influx of internally displaced people. Bronwyn Benito narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Build Human Tissue on Animal Matrix

    The question has always been, if a gecko can grow back its tail, why can't we regenerate our lost body parts? Well, maybe we can, someday. Scientists are moving towards the ability to rebuild fully functioning organs, and have made significant progress replacing muscles and other tissue.
    Video

    Video Containing Chernobyl Radiation Continues 30 Years After Explosion

    April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Hundreds were killed following the explosion and it's estimated that thousands more have died from cancers caused by the radiation. Henry Ridgwell traveled to Chernobyl and reports for VOA on the continuing efforts to decommission the site -- and on the fledgling plans for a new future in the vast exclusion zone.
    Video

    Video Frustration Builds Among Refugees Trapped at Macedonian Border

    On the Greek border with Macedonia, 12,000 refugees continue to wait. Since the route to the rest of Europe was closed last month, the makeshift camp at Idomeni has seen protests and tear gas. But while those here wait, their frustration grows — as do reports of people attempting to find new ways of continuing their journey. John Owens reports from Idomeni.
    Video

    Video Researchers: Bees Help Kenyan Farmers Fend Off Elephants

    Elephant crop-raiding continues to be a major source of human-wildlife conflict in Kenya, so one elephant researcher is helping to alleviate the problem near Tsavo East National Park with beehive fences, which use elephants’ natural aversion to bees to deter them from farms. VOA’s Jill Craig visited the area ahead of this month's Giants Club Summit, which will bring together dignitaries at Mount Kenya to find solutions to combat poaching, the No. 1 threat to elephants.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora