Locally owned small businesses around Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are facing “overwhelming” financial losses in the wake of the continuing government shutdown, but their concerns have not found traction in Washington, D.C.
In small towns around the parks, the tourism industry has been hit hard by cancellations, shortened trips and a sudden drop in business that has ranged from 50 percent to almost 100 percent in the case of one food and lodging business in Cooke City, near Yellowstone Park’s Northeast Gate.
“The impact up here has been unbelievable. It’s probably a ghost town up here right now,” said Leo Gaerther, owner of Buns N Beds in Cooke City, Mont.
Gaerther joined other Montana business owners in a conference call organized Friday by the National Parks Conservation Association to share details of how the shutdown has meant lost revenue, layoffs and bad publicity.
“The impact to this community has been overwhelming,” said Gaerther, who relies on fall business from wildlife watchers, photographers, anglers and other visitors who have disappeared since Yellowstone was closed Tuesday.
Tour customers from Illinois and New Jersey have been forced to cancel trips into the park, said guide Lee Nellis, co-owner of yLoop Road Trips in Cody, Wyo.
While Nellis offers alternative tours of other natural wonders near the park, he said most first-time out-of-state visitors are coming for only one reason.
“The reality is Yellowstone is why people come here,” said Nellis, who had a strong October tour schedule shaping up before the shutdown.
In West Yellowstone, Mont., business is off at least 60 percent since last week at the Three Bear Lodge and Restaurant, said general manager Travis Watt.
Watt said that gateway towns are resilient, but the season began badly when sequestration disrupted Yellowstone’s spring road plowing schedule, “and then we run into this like a brick wall, so it has been very frustrating.”
After already suffering more than 200 room cancellations, Three Bear will be forced to lay off at least seven employees by the weekend, he said.
“There’s no question we’ll get through it,” Watt said. “But it’s going to cost some people a lot of money and heartache.”
In Gardiner, Mont., just outside Yellowstone’s North Entrance, the elk rut would normally be drawing wildlife watchers, along with anglers looking to enjoy fall fishing in and around the park.
But bookings are down 50 percent at the Yellowstone River Motel, said Chelsea DeWeese, whose family owns the property, which is closed during winter.
“We are a six-month operation, and this park closure is basically cutting one of those months off of that for us,” DeWeese said.
The motel has had several visitors call to cancel reservations, while other guests have cut short their trips, she said.
Those business owners who have complained to their representatives in Congress have not heard much to give them hope.
Cory Lawrence, an executive with Off the Beaten Path, an adventure travel company in Bozeman, said he got only “canned responses” from Montana’s Congressional delegation saying they were “working hard to take care of this issue.”
Nellis said he feared “that there is a certain sense of resignation that we don’t expect our politicians to perform any more, and this is more really persuasive evidence that we can’t expect that.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].