By Ruffin Prevost
JACKSON, WYO. — Much of the fallout from cuts to national park budgets under the Congressional sequester has focused on Yellowstone National Park. But Grand Teton National Park will also see a few specific cuts in services as a result of the required 5 percent spending reductions.
The Wyoming communities of Jackson and Cody pitched in to help pay for plowing snow along the south and east entrance roads into Yellowstone, avoiding what otherwise would have been late spring openings for most park entrances.
With a mandate to trim approximately $700,000 from its budget by October, Grand Teton had initially planned to not open some popular visitor centers at all this summer. But private groups pitched in to help cover operating costs at visitor centers as part of a one-time effort to ease the pain from the sequester.
Yet even with private help, visitors and locals are likely to see the effects of spending reductions in five major areas this summer or in the near future:
Park managers had planned to leave visitor centers at Jenny Lake, the LSR Preserve Center and Flagg Ranch closed for the entire summer. But private donations will ensure that the two busier centers will open, though with reduced hours and seasons, according to information provided by park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.
An agreement with the Grand Teton Association to share revenues from book sales will help fund operation of the Jenny Lake Visitor Center, Skaggs said in an email. The center will operate for a shortened season form June 1 through Aug. 25 with reduced hours from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Private donations will also allow the National Park Service to open the Jenny Lake Ranger Station, which plays an important role in providing safety information for hikers and climbers. A one-time grant of $70,545 will help fund the LSR Preserve this summer.
The Flagg Ranch Information Center, located between Grand Teton and Yellowstone on the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, will not open for the summer.
Road and campground closures
Park managers have faced sharp criticism from locals for keeping some roads and campsites closed this summer. Savvy regular visitors use the less-traveled roads for everything from accessing campgrounds with fewer crowds to posing for wedding photos.
The road and campground closures include: Schwabacher Landing Road; Spaulding Bay Road and 2 backcountry campsites; Two Ocean Lake Road; and 20 campsites in eight locations along Grassy Lake Road between Flagg Ranch and Ashton, Idaho.
Vehicle traffic on the closed roads will be prohibited, and they will be treated as backcountry trails open to foot traffic only.
Critics have questioned how road closures will save money. Skaggs said it is an effort to save money on custodial services at vault toilets and campgrounds along the closed roads that is the reason for the closures. Sites in remote areas with fewer visitors were targeted for the closures.
Locking toilets and removing trash cans is not a viable option, Skaggs said.
“We have found that when a vault toilet is closed or trash can is removed, people still use that area to eliminate waste and trash. This creates not only an unsightly situation, but also unsanitary conditions that require more time and money to clean up and restore,” she said.
Bike and pet restrictions
Along with restrictions on vehicle traffic along the closed roads, the Park Service will also prohibit bicycling and dog-walking. The prohibitions are a result of park regulations that specify that bicycles and pets are only allowed on roads where vehicles may travel.
The Park Service will cut back on hiring seasonal rangers this summer to help patrol park roads and perform interpretive services. Skaggs said that reduction in seasonal rangers will mean “fewer interpretive programs park-wide and no evening campfire programs at campground amphitheaters.”
There will also be a “slight reduction in the number of seasonal law enforcement rangers, so there is the potential for longer response times,” Skaggs said.
“However, the park maintains a priority on providing for life and safety of visitors, employees, and park resources,” she said.
Grand Teton officials aren’t publicly discussing detailed plans to raise specific fees, but Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott has said that she doesn’t expect the parks budget to be restored any time soon to what it was in 2009, almost 14 percent higher than under the sequester.
“I think we’re looking at long-term reductions over time, and we’re planning for this to continue into the next fiscal year,” Scott told a group of Cody, Wyo. tourism business leaders earlier this month.
That is likely to eventually mean a bump in fees and prices for services, food, lodging and other areas throughout the park where the Park Service sees direct or indirect revenues, as park managers seek to make up for budget shortfalls.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.