Gateway towns gearing up for 2016 Park Service Centennial

Bill Berg, president of the Greater Gardiner Community Council, speaks in front of the Roosevelt Arch during the Gardiner Gateway Project kickoff event Thursday. Joining him on stage were, from left, Daniel Bierschwale, President, Gardiner Chamber of Commerce; Clara Conner, Division Engineer, Western Federal Lands Highway Division; Marty Malone, Commissioner, Park County, Mont.; Brian Schweitzer, Governor of Montana; and Dan Wenk, Superintenden of Yellowstone National Park. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate - click to enlarge)

Bill Berg, president of the Greater Gardiner Community Council, speaks in front of the Roosevelt Arch during the Gardiner Gateway Project kickoff event in 2012. Joining him on stage were, from left, Daniel Bierschwale, President, Gardiner Chamber of Commerce; Clara Conner, Division Engineer, Western Federal Lands Highway Division; Marty Malone, Commissioner, Park County, Mont.; Brian Schweitzer, Governor of Montana; and Dan Wenk, Superintenden of Yellowstone National Park. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate)

CODY, WYO. — With winter still firmly entrenched across Yellowstone country, some tourism industry leaders are already planning a few special events for the summer. That’s the summer of 2016.

The National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, and is planning special events and observations across the country, including at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Gateway towns are gearing up as well, looking to capitalize on what is likely to be an increased focus on national parks during the centennial year.

“It’s going to be a really big year for the whole region, so it’s really exciting for everyone,” said Kate Foster, communications manager for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

Industry leaders from Cody, Jackson and elsewhere will be meeting later this month in Cheyenne to discuss Park Service Centennial plans for 2016, said Claudia Wade, marketing director of the Park County Travel Council.

“Our discussion will be about how we can work together to promote what we will all have going on,” Wade said.

Wade and Foster said they expected Cody and Jackson to plan at least a few ceremonies and other observations of the Centennial, along with potential special additions or enhancements to annual tourism events, although initial planning has only just begun.

In Gardiner, Mont., work is progressing on a series of downtown improvements, as well as a makeover for Yellowstone’s North Gate.

Construction is scheduled to begin next month on the first phase of the Gardiner Gateway Project, which will include a total of $15 million in various public works projects aimed at historic preservation, upgrading utilities and infrastructure, improving traffic flow and parking and establishing new facilities like a public park and amphitheater.

A key goal of the project is to route foot and vehicle traffic more efficiently around the Roosevelt Arch, where visitors often stop for photos before navigating the narrow passage to proceed into the park. There have been instances where traffic has backed up more than a mile from the arch, stretching across the Yellowstone River.

Other work includes creating a historic walking tour and a rebuilt Gardiner Depot that highlights the history of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which marketed its early hub to Yellowstone as the Gardiner Gateway.

“It’s all still on track, but the project has been a heavy lift, and it continues to be pretty consuming,” said Bill Berg, president of the Greater Gardiner Community Council.

Community leaders in Gardiner are pushing to have major components of the Gardiner Gateway Project finished by summer 2016, when they anticipate being the focus of a major celebration marking the Park Service Centennial.

The Grand Teton National Park Foundation is working with the National Park Service to raise funds and finish work by 2016 on a major rehabilitation and improvement project for trails and facilities around Jenny Lake, one of the most popular destinations in the park.

“That is our signature 2016 Centennial project, and it is just a huge, lofty and complex project with several components, some of which already started last year,” said Grand Teton spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs.

Wade said she expects Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Yellowstone’s prime concessioner, to “plan a number of special promotions at properties inside the park.”

Tourism leaders in Cody will cooperate with Xanterra and others in gateway communities to promote specific Centennial events, “as well as a general appreciation for the role of the park during that special year,” she said.

A federal budget proposal released Monday by President Barack Obama calls for an additional $432.9 million for the Park Service in 2016, much of which would be spent to repair facilities and infrastructure in national parks for the Centennial.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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