The coalition of businesses that are keeping access to most of Yellowstone National Park open during the federal government shutdown are reaching out for help.
"Yellowstone is a large, dynamic park, and it touches all the communities in our region, and any assistance that can be provided from all of our partners to help keep Yellowstone open would be wonderful for the park," says Mike Keller, general manager for Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone.
Xanterra operates the only hotels open inside the park in winter. Xanterra organized the 13 companies that run winter tours in the park to join it in collectively funding the roughly $7,500 a day it costs to keep snow covered roads groomed. Those more than 300 miles of roads provide the only access to Old Faithful and other attractions, for snowmobiles and large-tired snowcoach vans.
On Friday, Yellowstone announced that it’s been allowed to tap previously collected recreation fess to bring on a few additional staff during the shutdown. The park is now staffing all of its entrance stations, except the northeast entrance. Staff are providing safety information, but not collecting entrance fees. Park staff has also been brought on board to clean public restrooms at Madison, Canyon and Old Faithful, work volunteers and park concessionaires have been doing.
Xanterra’s Keller says his company asked if the new funding could also be used for snow road grooming, which the park pays for when the government is not shut down.
"In our conversations with the National Park Service, the grooming of the roads was not considered essential, therefore we will be continuing to pay for the grooming and maintenance of roads in the interior."
At least one tour operator says his company is prepared to continue paying until Yellowstone’s winter season ends on March 15. But Xanterra’s Keller says his company will have to re-evaluate if the shutdown stretches into February. It’s already reached out to the state of Wyoming about potentially helping out with snow grooming costs.
"We’re starting to have some initial conversations. I know that we’ve spoken with a couple of representatives in Wyoming, with state agencies."
As of Monday, Xanterra and its partner tour operators contributed about $180,000 to pay Yellowstone National Park employees to use park equipment to groom snow-covered roads. Xanterra pays 58 percent of that, with the 13 tour operators collectives coming up with the rest.