The combination of the government shutdown and a fall snowstorm closing the Chief Joseph Highway stranded Yellowstone tourists in Cooke City, with no immediate way out of the national park.
Here’s the deal. A group of 15 from outside the region had scheduled their annual trip to see the fall colors in Yellowstone. After the government shutdown last Tuesday, they were told they had to leave the Park. For some reason they headed to Cooke City instead of West Yellowstone or Gardiner; this time of year Cooke City is pretty much shut down, and with the Beartooth Highway closing early in 2013 because of snow, there’s only one way in or out during a shutdown: the Chief Joseph Highway. (Locals with a special permit are allowed to use the road between the North Entrance and the Northeast Entrance; tourists cannot.)
And then came the snow. Closing down the Chief Joseph Highway, and stranding tourists in Cooke City. Luckily, they scored rooms at one of the few places still open, and they’re set to stay through Oct. 18.
It’s a scenario playing out across the entire Yellowstone area. From the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:
The owner of Buns N Beds, Leo Gaerther, likened Cooke City to a “ghost town” now that the park and connecting roads have closed. He only remains open because of the trapped tourists and locals and estimates that business has “dropped almost 100 percent” since the government shutdown.
“I just wish we could get this thing resolved. I still got to pay the light bill, I still got to pay the mortgage. That doesn’t go away. They don’t care whether (Yellowstone) is open or closed. It’s something people don’t think about, but that’s just how it is,” Gaerther said.
Similar scenes have played out in other Montana communities that serve as gateways to the country’s first national park. Chelsea DeWeese, whose family owns Yellowstone River Motel in Gardiner, said the shutdown has driven bookings down 50 percent and is causing 13 people to leave earlier than planned.
Within the Park, most services are already shut down, and more are set to close in coming weeks. Technically, the last day of the summer season for the Mammoth Hotel was today, but tourists were long gone. The Old Faithful Inn is scheduled to close on Oct. 13, and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge on Oct. 20. Some services, such as the Old Faithful Snow Lodge fast-food shop and the Old Faithful Visitor Center, are set to remain open through Nov. 3, but the shutdown has impacted all these operations. You can see a list of all 2013 opening and closing dates here. In West Yellowstone, we’re seeing some businesses just shut down for the season; if the government does open any time soon — and indications are that this is not likely before a vote to raise the debt limit is needed by Oct. 17 — chances are most potential Yellowstone National Park visitors have already scrapped their plans for a visit.