Posted: Oct 4, 2013 11:43 AM by John Sherer
Updated: Oct 4, 2013 1:18 PM
Even as another 45 employees will be furloughed at the world's oldest National Park, officials are already planning for a rapid reopening once funding is restored. The government shutdown forced closure of the park this week. Visitors were given 48 hours to leave, and except for one group in the back country, all left as of Thursday afternoon. That back country group is due to leave today.
Park spokesman, Al Nash, says in spite of closed gates and a quiet, lonely park, managers are preparing now to reopen Yellowstone as quickly as possible. Nash says if funding is restored in the morning, the park might reopen the same day, otherwise gates would probably be opened the next morning. He says the highly variable mountain weather in the fall could play a role and slow a reopening, but he says the park is already equipped to deal with fall snows and he's not worried that will cause major problems.
This past Monday, the day before the shut down started, the Park Service employed 689 workers. As of this coming Monday, that number will be down to 108. But Nash says some key posts are remaining staffed. Chief among those are ranger patrols for poachers. He says the fall hunting season is underway and the park is keenly aware that wildlife along the borders can be a tempting target. For that reason patrols along the boundaries remain as vigilant as ever.
Rangers are also patrolling highway 191 south of Big Sky, Montana where the highway runs inside the park boundary. Nash says rangers are still enforcing park traffic laws and are responding to accidents. Trail use in that area is also prohibited during the shutdown.
Another service park employees are providing is plowing of roads. The park road from Gardiner, Montana to Silver Gate and Cooke City, is being kept open since it is one of only two ways for residents to get to their homes in those small mountain villages. Those home owners already have special passes to allow them through the locked gates. Park Service employees are also plowing Highway 296, the Chief Joseph Highway, connecting Cooke City and Silver Gate to Cody Wyoming. Nash says that will be the way visitors will be able to access the two remote towns.
Park Spokesman Nash himself will join the ranks of the unemployed as he leaves for furlough after Friday. He is keeping a positive attitude saying, "It is what it is." He plans to stay near the park and be available if needed. He says many employees are just waiting to come back to work and managers plan to start contacting workers as soon as it looks like a political compromise will restore funding. That will allow the park to get ready to reopen even before a political settlement is reached.
CORRECTION: The day of park's closure was Tuesday, not Monday as previously reported.