Yellowstone Forever delays park donations, furloughs staff

Another ripple effect from the coronavirus pandemic: Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit fundraising partner for Yellowstone National Park, has suspended park donations and furloughed employees.

With Yellowstone National Park closed, so are the tours led by Yellowstone Forever guides, and there’s little revenue from merchandise sales, as the stores within the park itself are closed as well. Without a certain opening date or a clear game plan as to what will be open (for instance, Xanterra has announced Old Faithful Inn will not open in 2020), the Board of Directors adopted financial cutbacks; in addition to the furloughs, senior staff are taking pay cuts as well.

Yellowstone Forever has been struggling in recent years. Last June Heather White stepped down as the nonprofit’s CEO after reports surfaced of financial issues and multi-million-dollar deficits. Two years ago Yellowstone Forever donated $5.9 million toward Yellowstone projects; in 2020 $2.8 million was budgeted in donations, but that number is in serious doubt. Yellowstone Forever had been success in raising funds for specific project, such as $1 million for a North Entrance overhaul, as well as committing $5.9 million for 53 priority projects across the Park, including the Native Fish Restoration program, a major effort to restore native fish populations to sustainable levels, as well as grants for visitor and wildlife safety education, providing support for seasonal rangers and volunteers to deliver safety information at wildlife traffic jams, demonstrations on how to use bear spray, and safe hiking and camping practices.

Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly says that he’s looking at $10 million in budget cuts in 2020 and expects to make adjustment to cover for the potential loss of Yellowstone Forever contributions. The longer-term issue is the use of Yellowstone Forever as an official nonprofit fundraiser, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle:

Philanthropy is an important part of the park’s budget, he said, and some donors have reached out to inquire about donating to specific projects directly. He said the park is evaluating those offers.

But he also said relying on grants for big projects puts them in a precarious position. He said the park will begin looking to reconfigure the budgets for programs that are overly reliant on grant funding from Yellowstone Forever.

“We simply can’t be in a position where the success of some of our most important programs are completely predicated on philanthropy,” Sholly said. “While it’s worked over the years, this last year is a wake up call.”

Photo courtesy National Park Service.

RELATED STORIES: Don’t look for Yellowstone opening until late May–at the earliestYellowstone National Park closed indefinitelyCalls for a Yellowstone spring closure emergingXanterra Yellowstone lodges closed through May 21First 2020 Yellowstone shutdowns due to coronavirus announcedTBD: Coronavirus Impacts on YellowstoneExperts: Coronavirus Outbreak Could Impact 2020 Yellowstone Visitation

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