Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are officially closed for business as of today, but those staying in both parks will have two days to make alternative travel arrangements.
The U.S. government went on partial shutdown as of midnight after the House and Senate failed to come to an agreement on a continued budget plan. As a result, government workers across the spectrum were furloughed and everything but essential services shut down: over 21,000 National Park Service (NPS) employees (out of 24,645) will be furloughed. (In Yellowstone, 260 employees out of approximately 420 employees are furloughed, with another 48 set to be furloughed once all hotel and campground visitors leave the park.) We’re at the rump of the season; October traditionally brings out those wishing to see the fall colors and sneak in one last visit before the gates close for winter. Most of the services in Yellowstone had closed, with Old Faithful Inn, Mammoth Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge the only hotels open; the Old Faithful Inn lodging is set to close Oct. 13.
However, with the government shutting down as of midnight this morning, Yellowstone and Grand Teton are both closed. Xanterra, which runs hotel concessions, will automatically cancel and refund reservations for the three hotels while the park is closed. All roads, including the northern route between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance normally open year-round, are closed (except for Silver Gate and Cooke City residents). The Mammoth General Store, normally open year-round, is also closed. No one will be allowed in the park, and a two-phase process will be instituted to let those staying in the park making an orderly departure. Emergency services will be maintained, but visitor centers will be closed. Not every National Park employee will be furloughed; enough will be retained to provide essential services. And the National Park Service laid out an orderly shutdown process for every National Park. From the NPS planning document:
Effective immediately upon a lapse in appropriations, the National Park Service will take all necessary steps to close and secure National Park facilities and grounds in order to suspend all activities except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property. Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately as part of Phase 1 closures. Visitors utilizing overnight concession accommodations and campgrounds will be notified to make alternate arrangements and depart the park as part of Phase 2. Wherever possible, park roads will be closed and access will be denied. National and regional offices and support centers will be closed and secured, except where they are needed to support excepted personnel. These steps will be enacted as quickly as possible while still ensuring visitor and employee safety as well as the integrity of park resources.
The shutdown process will take place in two phases. Phase 1 includes all activities to notify the public of the closure, secure government records and property, and begin winding down operations to essential activities only. Phase 1 will take place over a day and a half. Phase 2 will be initiated by the Director and includes the complete shutdown of all concession facilities and commercial visitor services. Overnight visitors will be given two days to make alternate arrangements and depart the parks. At the end of Phase 2 operations are expected to be at the minimum levels defined below. The entire closure process – both phases – will be completed within four days.
For those staying in the park, there will be a little buffer of time to make alternative arrangements, as detailed above. For gateway communities, the loss of the last two weeks of the Yellowstone summer season will be a hit, though not the hit it would be if the park closed in the middle of July. Still, as KULR reports, it will may mean an early end of the season for many of the area operators:
“If the government shuts down we’re going to give it either 24 or 48 hours to see if it opens back up. If not, we’ll have to close down,” says Angela Coe, owner of Pahaska Resort, a spot just outside Yellowstone’s East gate. She says she had planned to close in mid-October.
“We have about 33 employees right now. Some of them have plane tickets. We’re going to have to figure that out. If they’re in a bind we’re going to have to let them stay here. But we’ll be closed and they won’t be working.”
Image by the National Parks Conservation Association, via flickr.com.