By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Gateway communities around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are sounding the alarm over what could be cuts in visitor services and shortened seasons if Congress fails to resolve a dispute over planned automatic spending cuts.
With just over a week until the March 1 deadline for scheduled across-the-board budget cuts known as a federal sequester, tourism industry leaders in Wyoming and Montana are letting elected officials know how National Park Service budget constraints could affect their communities.
Cuts to the Park Service may mean everything from fewer seasonal workers in Grand Teton to a delay in the spring opening of snow-bound entrances to Yellowstone Park.
“So much of our economy is tied to Yellowstone that even small, targeted cuts can have a large, negative impact,” said a joint letter from Cody, Wyo. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Scott Balyo and Claudia Wade, marketing director of the Park County Travel Council.
“Traffic through the East Gate of Yellowstone and Park County lodging tax collections were both up 10 percent last year. We do not want to lose the momentum gained through our effective marketing efforts,” read the letter to members of Wyoming’s Congressional delegation.
A Park Service memo acquired by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees outlines potential budget cuts to be enacted under sequestration, including a $1.75 million reduction the budget for Yellowstone National Park.
The January 25 memo from Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis advises park officials nationwide to begin planning for expected budget cuts totaling up to $110 million for the agency.
Jarvis wrote that the cuts “will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources and government assets.”
In Yellowstone, that could mean delays in spring openings to save money on costly snow-plowing operations.
Voices of Montana Tourism, an industry trade group, wrote to Montana’s Congressional delegation to warn that cutting back on access to Yellowstone Park could mean reduced tax revenues.
“Last year, non-resident tourism to Montana generated approximately $253 million in federal taxes; a drop of less than 1 percent would negate any savings resulting from the proposed cuts,” the group wrote.
Sequestration cuts in Grand Teton could approach nearly $750,000, according to figures released by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
The memo from Jarvis directs managers to seek savings by cutting services, furloughing workers, eliminating seasonal and temporary positions and delaying non-essential contracts, among other measures.
Joan Anzelmo, a former Yellowstone spokeswoman, said the cuts “could not come at a worse time.”
“We sympathize with current National Park staffers, who are feeling an acute sense of chaos building as they run in circles trying to figure out so late in the fiscal year how to meet these harsh cuts, protect park resources and serve the public,” she said. “This is no way to run a national park system.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].