Yellowstone National Park's spring opening will be pushed back one to two weeks as the park searches for ways to meet budget cuts mandated by the sequestration ordered by President Obama and Congress.
The news out of Yellowstone on Monday likely will be followed by somewhat similar releases from across the National Park System as park officials sort out how they will absorb the cuts mandated by the sequestration.
At Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri, for example, staff there plan to eliminate interpretive programs, evening campfire programs, and Round Spring Cave tours in one park district. The Big Spring Campground there will be open in the summer months, but is planned to be closed the rest of the year. Trash collection, water service, and restroom janitorial services are prepared to be eliminated or curtailed for all of the smaller campgrounds.
In Yellowstone, spring plowing is no small task. Park road crews clear snow and ice from 198 miles of main road, 124 miles of secondary roads, and 125 acres of parking lots inside the park as well as 31 miles of the Beartooth Highway outside the park’s Northeast Entrance to prepare for the summer season.
Crews normally begin plowing roads on the Monday after the first weekend in March. However, budget cuts due to the impacts of sequestration prompted the park to take many administrative actions, including delaying the start of plowing until Monday, March 18, a park release said Monday.
It costs up to $30,000 a day to clear Yellowstone’s roads in the spring. Allowing time for more snow to melt from the roads should reduce the number of days it takes to clear each road segment. This will also result in less ice to be cleared from the road base, less re-plowing of road segments, less wear and tear and repairs on equipment, and a reduction in fuel costs, the release said.
The park chose to delay spring road clearing as part of an overall plan to cut $1.75 million from the park's anticipated $35 million annual base operating budget, since a delayed spring opening will impact fewer visitors and have fewer impacts on local communities than cuts during the peak summer months.
Based on 2012 visitation figures, opening two weeks later than originally scheduled will impact approximately 135,000 visitors, compared to the 505,000 visitors who would be impacted if the park were closed the last two weeks of the fiscal year in mid-September through the end of October. Yellowstone hosted 3.45 million visitors to the park during the 2012 calendar year.
The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center, Snow Lodge Geyser Grill and Bear Den Gift Shop are now scheduled to open on April 26, a week later than previously scheduled. All other services including the Old Faithful Inn, the Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge and the Upper and Lower General Stores and Service Stations are expected to open as originally scheduled.
All services in the Mammoth area including the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Dining Room, and Terrace Grill should open as originally scheduled. The Yellowstone General Store, clinic, post office, campground, and Albright Visitor Center are open all year.
The roads from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Old Faithful are now scheduled to open to automobile travel at 8 a.m. on Friday, April 26, one week later than originally scheduled.
The road from Norris Junction to Canyon Village will open on Friday morning, May 3, two weeks later than previously scheduled. The Canyon Adventure Store will now open on May 3 and the Canyon Visitor Education Center will open on May 25, both two weeks later than previously scheduled. All other services in the area including the Canyon Lodge will open on schedule.
Yellowstone intends to open the road from the park’s East Entrance to Fishing Bridge, Lake, and Canyon Village no later than May 17, which is two weeks later than normally scheduled. This may result in a delayed opening for the Fishing Bridge General Store, the Fishing Bridge RV Park and the Fishing Bridge Service Station.
The Fishing Bridge Visitor Center is now scheduled to open on May 25, three days later than originally scheduled. All other services in the Lake and Fishing Bridge area including the Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the Lake Hotel Cabins and the Lake Lodge and Cabins will open as originally scheduled.
Travel through the park’s South Entrance to Grant, West Thumb and Lake will begin no later than Friday morning, May 24, in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The road from West Thumb Junction over Craig Pass to Old Faithful will open shortly thereafter. The Grant Mini Store will open on May 24, one week later than originally scheduled. All other services in the Grant area will open as originally scheduled.
The section of US-212 between the park’s Northeast Entrance through Cooke City and Silver Gate to the intersection with WY-296, the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, will open on Friday, May 24, in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The section of the Beartooth Highway between the junction of US-212/WY-296 and the community of Red Lodge, Montana, is now set to open on Friday, June 14.
The road between Canyon and Tower-Roosevelt over Dunraven Pass will open to travel sometime in early June. Construction will resume this summer between Tower-Roosevelt Junction and Chittenden Road, with up to 30 minute delays and possible nightly road closures. All services in the area including the Tower Fall General Store and the Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins will open as originally scheduled.
The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana through Mammoth Hot Springs on to the Northeast Entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, is open all year.
The sequestration cuts will result in a base operating budget of approximately $33.3 million for Yellowstone, a 10-percent decrease from the $37 million base operating budget the park received in Fiscal Year 2010. The park anticipates taking several other actions, including leaving several permanent positions vacant and hiring fewer seasonal employees in order to make up the budget shortfall, while still working to provide a high quality visitor experience during the peak summer season.