By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Federal budget cuts required under the Congressional sequester will result in relatively minor cuts in services this summer for visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. But park managers say they are not optimistic about the financial outlook for next year and beyond.
“I think we’re looking at long-term reductions over time, and we’re planning for this to continue into the next fiscal year,” Grand Teton Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott told a group of Cody, Wyo. tourism business leaders Monday.
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said the park’s annual budget this year is down approximately $4 million from its recent peak, and “it may be the new normal” as Congress focuses on reigning in spending.
Scott and Wenk spoke at an annual National Parks Day luncheon, a 60-year tradition that sees park managers offer a preview each spring of their outlook on everything from visitation trends to road repairs.
Wenk praised local efforts in Cody and Jackson, Wyo. to cover costs for plowing snow from park entrance roads after the sequester required a delay in National Park Service plowing efforts.
Despite budget cuts, a contract has been finalized for repairs on a section of badly damaged road near Lake Butte Overlook, Wenk said.
One lane of the road near Nine Mile, between the East Entrance and Fishing Bridge, washed out in spring 2011. Temporary traffic lights that have managed the one-lane passage will remain, and work could begin within about two weeks, Wenk said. Night closures from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., if necessary, will be limited to no more than two weeks in mid-July.
Scott said road resurfacing north of Colter Bay will mean delays of up to 30 minutes this summer.
She said advance bookings so far this year in Grand Teton are “very strong.”
Scott encouraged residents to review a Snake River management plan that will govern fishing, rafting and other activities on the river and its tributaries.
She also said a main focus in the months ahead will remain finding a way to purchase inholdings within Grand Teton owned by the state of Wyoming. Under a plan negotiated with the state, the Park Service is looking for $91 million to buy a square-mile of state-owned land near Gros Ventre road.
Wenk said he was “cautiously optimistic” that a new winter-use plan to manage snowmobile and snow coach travel in the park will continue to receive consensus support and avoid any late legal challenges. A final rule on winter use should be in place by the end of the summer, he said.
In an effort to help address the ongoing budget issues, Wenk said park managers will continue to examine ways to raise more revenue, including a recent push to revise commercial activity permits in the park. The Park Service has recently increased fees for campgrounds and fishing licenses, he said, and will look at entry fees and other revenue sources, including a larger share of concessions revenues.
“We have to look at the revenue side of what we’re doing,” Wenk said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].