The government shutdown has already meant wrecked vacations for visitors and blocked access for locals trying to enter Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. But as the lockout continues, those planning visits in the near future are struggling with whether to roll the dice that it might end soon, or cancel their plans altogether.
For those who choose to visit the area around the parks despite the shutdown, gateway community visitor centers and chambers of commerce can offer a host of nearby activities and attractions.
But what about the nuts and bolts of how the shutdown governs park operations in the meantime? Here are answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions about how the shutdown affects Yellowstone and Grand Teton:
Am I allowed into the parks?
The parks are closed to all visitors. Entrance roads leading into Yellowstone are gated and staffed, and visitors are not allowed in.
Highway 26/89/191 from Grand Teton’s south boundary to the east boundary will remain open for through traffic.
In Yellowstone, the road from Cooke City, Mont. to Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Gardiner, Mont. will remain open and accessible only for residents of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Mont. Residents must have a previously issued sticker documenting their local status in order to use the road from Mammoth to Cooke City.
Roadside turnouts are closed and visitors are prohibited from stopping for photographs or other reasons. However, the practical and public-relations limits to enforcing this prohibition are self-apparent.
Mail delivery and similar necessary vendor travel will be allowed.
Once I’m in a park on a through road, can I fish, hike or camp?
Not according to park policies. In fact, Grand Teton Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said in a conference call Tuesday that park employees residing inside Grand Teton have been admonished that they are prohibited from any recreation inside park boundaries.
Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said signs will be posted at pullouts reminding visitors that they are not allowed to hike or fish, only drive through.
What about people already in the parks? Can they stay?
The official position of the Park Service is that “visitors in overnight accommodations and campgrounds will be given 48 hours to leave the park.” Backcountry campers may stay for the length of their permit.
What if people refuse to leave the park, or what happens if I make it into the park without authorization? Will I be cited or arrested?
Park Service officials will likely want to avoid negative publicity from a heavy-handed crackdown on those who want to enjoy their parks. But national parks are federal lands where any number of options remain available to law enforcement officers, depending on the situation.
“We always work to address our visitors in the most upbeat and friendly approach possible,” Nash said. “So we would apprise them of the situation and ask them to comply with our request. If someone doesn’t comply with a request, then we’d consider whether we need to take any additional action.”
Will those who have made reservations and paid deposits for accommodations inside the parks get a refund?
Each concessioner will resolve that issue independently, but anecdotal reports from some prospective visitors indicate that concessioners are likely to return deposits and work to reschedule trips.
Once the shutdown is resolved, how quickly will the parks reopen?
Park officials won’t say exactly how long it will take, only that the parks will reopen “as soon as appropriations are provided.”
“When funding is restored, we believe that we can open the gates and the roads back to the public fairly quickly,” Nash said.
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