| OLD FAITHFUL, Wyo.
OLD FAITHFUL, Wyo. May 10 Snow removal could
hardly be considered a glamorous government function, but it was
cause for celebration on Friday in Yellowstone National Park as
dozens of state, local and federal dignitaries gathered to mark
the on-time seasonal opening of the park's roads.
After federal budget cuts known as the "sequester" delayed
annual snow plowing efforts by the National Park Service, two
small Wyoming towns on the fringe of Yellowstone organized a
private fund-raising drive that helped cover the cost of
clearing the roads.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead joined Yellowstone Superintendent
Dan Wenk and others at Old Faithful Lodge on Friday to celebrate
a cooperative effort that helped erase the park's most visible
effect of federal budget cuts and marked the opening of all
major roads within Yellowstone.
Mead approved a plan in March that allowed roughly $125,000
in mostly private money to pay for Wyoming Department of
Transportation plows and for workers to clear portions of the
east entrance road from Cody and the south entrance road from
While most July and August visitors would not be concerned
whether roads were plowed on time in May, the local funding
assist meant that other "ripple-effect" cuts to visitor services
would not be necessary, Wenk said.
Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park are
major attractions in Wyoming, helping to draw nearly 8.7 million
annual visitors to a state where tourism is the second-largest
industry, Mead said.
Local leaders had feared that a late start to the summer
tourist season would result in lingering misperceptions
nationwide that the parks were either closed or staffed by
skeleton crews. The two parks provide a combined total of more
than 10,000 jobs for the Jackson and Cody communities.
So far, advance bookings for Yellowstone are up over last
year, said Rick Hoeninghausen, vice president for sales and
marketing at Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the park's primary
lodging and activities concessionaire.
"Besides the economic end of it, there are also the people
who plan their vacations around those dates," said Jerry Fritz,
a Cody City Council member and Wyoming Department of
Transportation worker who helped plow roads in Yellowstone.
That includes visitors like David Hanna, a chicken farmer
from Magee, Mississippi, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2010
and spent much of the next two years in treatment and recovery.
When he was declared cancer-free last year, he began
planning a "dream vacation" to Yellowstone with his wife, Verna.
Their goal has been to get into the park as soon as possible,
which was May 3, thanks to the local snow-plowing efforts.
"It's just amazing. I've never seen anything like this,"
Hanna said last week during his long-awaited trip as he looked
out over still-frozen Yellowstone Lake and a steaming fumarole
at Steamboat Point.
The automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts
imposed March 1 under a drastic deficit-reduction deal between
President Barack Obama and Congress has meant cuts in services
in other national parks across the country, including
neighboring Grand Teton National Park.
An effort there to trim $700,000 from the last half of the
fiscal year's operating budget could mean closed campsites,
toilets and other facilities. But as in Yellowstone, local
groups are stepping in to help.
There was no praise at Old Faithful on Friday for Congress,
which failed to avert the sequester. Mead said the Washington,
D.C. approach to such issues was one of placing blame, rather
than resolving problems.
"But this ain't D.C.," Mead said with a broad smile as he
signed a proclamation supporting National Travel and Tourism
Week. "This is Wyoming."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)