While the shutdown of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks has wrecked vacation plans for visitors, it also has idled hundreds of National Park Service employees and others, a move that has proven “devastating to morale” for workers who live, shop and play in the parks and in nearby gateway communities.
In Yellowstone, the Park Service was employing 689 workers at the time of the shutdown, with 420 of those working full-time. About 160 of those remained on the job immediately after the shutdown took effect, said park spokesman Al Nash. If the closure remains in place, another 45 more will be sent home in the next few days.
In Grand Teton, about 40 Park Service employees will be retained out of a total of 240, meaning more than 80 percent of park staff will be on furlough. Those placed on furlough are not paid, and an obscure federal law prohibits them from volunteering to perform their job duties without pay.
“It is devastating to morale,” Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters and local officials. “It is not something that any member of the National Park Service is wired to do.”
“It is our nature to welcome and educate,” Scott said. “It’s a crushing experience to be put on furlough and told not to work and told not to volunteer.”
Positions still filled in the parks under the shutdown include law enforcement, emergency services and employees maintaining “critical infrastructure.” Mammoth Hot Springs, for instance, in Yellowstone, draws domestic drinking water from the Gardner River, Panther Creek and Indian Creek via a treatment plant inside the park.
Scott said that some park staff members had rude encounters Tuesday with people unhappy about the closure, including a few who tried to “blow past checkpoints” where workers were controlling entry.
“It’s disappointing that some visitors have already been so difficult to park staff who are out there doing their jobs,” she said.
Nash said he had not heard of any similar incidents in Yellowstone.
“The decision to close or remain open was not at my discretion, it was made by the Washington office,” Scott said.
“The staff on duty are not being paid and have absolutely no decision-making power or discretion in making these closures,” she said. “Please realize a shutdown is a very difficult thing for all of us to do.”
Besides the Park Service employees sent home, Scott said there is also a wide range of concessions workers who will be idled by the shutdown.
Nash said there were more than 1,100 concessions workers in Yellowstone just before the shutdown.
An extended shutdown would make it economically unfeasible to retain those concessions employees, and replacing them quickly after the end of a prolonged shutdown would be difficult and costly.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].