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Cuts To Grand Teton National Park's Staff Will Delay Emergency Response, Close Some Facilities


Budget cuts will translate into longer emergency response time by Grand Teton National Park rangers, and some closed facilities, this summer. Photo by QT Luong via

Climbers, backcountry travelers, and even front-country campers at Grand Teton National Park will face longer response times if they get in trouble this year as a result of federal budget cuts, according to the park superintendent.

Rangers that patrol the Tetons, Jackson Lake, and the Snake River will be stretched a bit thin by the budget sequestration, potentially leaving visitors to fend for themselves for a while if they are hurt or lost.

“We’re trying to minimize the impacts on visitor services these cuts would have. However, there is no way to take this reduction without reducing the amount of services we provide," Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said Monday during a telephone call with reporters.

All park visitors could notice a reduction in services, as the need to trim $700,000 from Grand Teton's budget is leading to reduced seasonal ranger staffing, closed visitor centers, and closure of some areas of the park, she said.

“We know there will be delays in responding to search and rescue, as well as medical emergencies and law enforcement," the superintendent said. "Our responsibilities I take very seriously on both employee and visitor safety. We are trying to maintain those functions to the degree we can. I just think that we will have delays in pulling together if there’s a major search and rescue, being able to pull all the resources we need.”

Grand Teton averages 70-75 search-and-rescue incidents a year, ranging from aiding visitors who twist an ankle and looking for lost children to rescuing climbers from the mountains.

Across the National Park System park managers are cutting here and there to bring their budgets in line with the across-the-board cuts agreed upon by the Congress and the White House. Parks such as Yellowstone and Acadia are pushing their spring opening dates back a month, some campgrounds will remain closed in places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and backcountry toilets might not get pumped out.

Multiplying the problems created by the sequestration is the fact that those cuts are heaped on a general budget shrinkage, Superintendent Gibson pointed out.

“These cuts come on top of a flat budget for the past four fiscal years, and when adjusted for inflation our budget has actually declined by approximiately 8 percent over that time period. That number is prior to sequestration taking effect," she said.

A bit more than half of the $700,000, some $372,000, in cuts are being made by reducing the ranks of seasonal rangers by 26. While the park hires approximately 180 seasonal rangers each year, only about 90 of those are paid for through Grand Teton's base operating budget. The other 90 are funded through grants targeted at specific projects, such as removing invasive plants or maintaining trails.

"We depend on our seasonals to operate the parks during the summer, staffing the visitor centers, road patrol, managing wildlife jams, firefighting, search-and-rescue and emergency response, and custodial, such as cleaning restrooms," the superintendent explained.

As a result of fewer seasonal rangers, hours of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Moose, the Colter Bay Visitor Center, and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center will most likely be reduced this year, she said. However, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center and the Flagg Ranch Information Station will be closed entirely, as will the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

"We will also not be able to provide ranger-led interpretive or education programs as we have in the past. We will provide limited programs at visitor centers ... although we will not provide the typical array of programs, such as the campfire talks and the majority of ranger-led walks," said Superintendent Gibson.

Areas that will be closed include the Spalding Bay, Two Ocean Lake, and Schwabacher's Landing areas, as the park lacks the staff to maintain the restrooms and trash at those sites, she said. Eight dispersed-site campgrounds along the Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller Parkway also will not open this summer, the superintendent added.

While the park is delaying its snow removal operations on the Teton Park Road by about two weeks, until April 1, snowfall was not great this past winter and the park staff should be able to open the road on schedule on May 1, she said. "Other roads will be allowed to naturally melt out this spring. These include Moose-Wilson, Antelope Flats, Signal Mountain Summit, and Death Canyon," the superintendent added.

"This has not been an easy exercise for any park manager. To try and figure out, in the middle of March, how you'll run a park in full summer operations (with reduced staff and funding)," Superintendent Gibson said. "We’ve had to actually withdraw offers to seasonals that were already made, as we realized what cuts we would have to make when we got our numbers and what the percentages were."



You were building a case until you started to use obviously charged and weighted terms like "a seemingly limitless medical care plan, heavily subsidized child daycare..." and such. If your case holds water on it's own merits you don't need to shade your terms so baldly.

By the way - those paid federal holidays? Most of the rest of us get them too.

In 2012 Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott stated that Grand Teton National Park had a 193 million dollar maintenance backlog yet in the same press conference boasts about spending over 80 million dollars for new infrastructure with more projects call me old fashioned but if you can't maintain what you have should you build more?

I remember as a teenager my father coming home from work completely distressed about a politically eager new superintendent spending hundreds of thousands of dollars repainting all GTNP vehicles the new shade of green (rather that waiting for the two to three year turnover) as to impress several soon to be visiting Washington appears things haven 'd change other than the numbers are now millions in waste.

The national park service has lost it's no longer understands it's purpose, it's responsibility.

One reason the National Park Service has pushed towards filling more and more staffing positions with seasonal employees is to avoid paying out for health care, child care, and retirement benefits. Seasonals do get sick time and annual leave but don't accrue as much as full time staff per week.

Mr. Mayo--

The CATO Institute is hardly an unbiased source for such information. I agree with ec. I think your statement is way too strong.

As to Grand Teton management betraying the public, most superintendents I know are in despair about their annual operating program. There simply is not enough money to do what they always have been able to do and what the public expects in an area of the National Park System. A 5% cut at this time in the fiscal year is more like a 9 or 10% cut. As to private businesses not betraying their customers, many of them have simply closed their doors and gone out of business, an option not available to a park superintendent.


agree with ec.

Did I just see a pig fly, or has hell gotten alot colder ;)

You make a great point...private sector businesses live or die based on their ability to manage their budgets and provide quality of service or product...the national park service and the government as a whole is rewarded with continued funding no matter how poorly they perform.

And the rangers, seasonal and permanent, office personnel, the maintenance workers, volunteers and all the others who work their tails off at the ground level take it in the shorts no matter how WELL they perform. I'll bet, too, that given the dedication most of these people have to their parks, jobs, one another and the traveling public, they will bust their butts even more trying to compensate for sequestration's cuts.

That's probably true in other Federal agencies as well. Remember, in all these agencies there are actually two levels. The political appointees at the very top and the workers who do the work. (Which does not necessarily mean that all the appointees are drones, though.) Then there are the Congresscritters who, if they have enough money available, will be re-elected no matter what insanity they may impose upon us.

But it's much easier -- and probably more fun sometimes -- to be critical than it is to look for and praise the good that happens all around us.

Yes, ec, pigs do fly sometimea, and I did appreciate your comment above. As to TC Mayo's last point, it doesn't really make any difference how well a park provides quality visitor services, protects resources or maintains productive relationships with park interest groups. They get sequestered along with everything else. Doing well in the private sector, which usually means more business, is a powerful incentive. In the current political climate, the only incentive for a park and its staff to do well is their pride in making a contribution to our nation's environmental heallth and to taking care of the places and things that are important to our history. As Lee points out above, thousands of NPS people have that sense, including, by the way, Mary Gibson Scott (I worked with her), and they are really bummed when they do not have the resources to provide what visitors have come to expect. It's really too bad that your anti-government bias does not allow you to see this.


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