Posted: Mar 4, 2013 5:26 PM by John Sherer
Speaking from Park headquarters in Mammoth, Wyoming Monday afternoon, Park Superintendent Dan Wenk said that the most popular national park in the country will open its gates one to two weeks late this spring.
Wenk says the park needs to absorb $1.75 million in cuts to its $35 million budget. The cuts must be made between now and the end of September, which is the end of the fiscal year for the park service. He says one million dollars will be saved by allowing vacant positions to go unfilled. Another $450,000 will be saved by hiring fewer seasonal workers this summer and $100,000 will be saved by cutting back on how long seasonal workers will be kept on the payroll.
But that still leaves the park short, so spring snowplowing of park roads will start two weeks late this year, beginning Monday, March 18. Wenk estimates the park will save about $30,000 a day by letting sunshine melt the snow on park roads for an extra fourteen days.
Because the late start and reduced hiring will hurt communities that border the park, Wenk says he approached those towns asking if they would like to make up the $200,000 shortfall for early spring snowplowing. Wenk says the small towns were unable to come up with the money. Since The park is also responsible for plowing the Beartooth Highway between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana and Cody Wyoming. Wenk said in 2011, the Park Service spent $316,000 clearing the Beartooth Highway and in 2012, $178,000. He said, "If the states would like to revisit that, I would be happy to have discussions with them, this afternoon."
Park officials say they reviewed many options for changing seasons for the park, but determined that spring time makes the most sense.
"The reason we chose to do it in the spring, is that it impacts the least number of visitors. We have total visitation during the time of opening, if the same number of visitors showed up this year as last year, it would be about 135,000 visitors through all entrances. If we took it in the fall and took it through the last two weeks of September and also October would be closed, it would be over 500,000 visitors." Said Wenk.
With the later snowplowing start, Gardiner and the west side of the park will open on April 26, instead of April 19. The east entrance will open May 17, instead of May 3. The south entrance will open May 24, instead of May 10. The northeast entrance will open May 24.
The Beartooth Highway will then be plowed and is scheduled to open on June 14.
Wenk said that if the park had a full year to prepare for the cuts, things might have been different. "I know we would have found some savings there that we're not looking at this year," he said.
"We'd look at winter use, we'd look at how much programming we put in in October, when we have less visitors in the last few weeks of October," said Wenk. He noted that there would be many options and opportunities the park would have if the cuts could be applied to a full budget year instead of just the busy summer season.