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Despite Government Shutdown, Yellowstone Remains Open For Snowmobiles

By Nick Longworth

A trail within Yellowstone National Park. Photo courtesy of Two Top Snowmobile Rentals (now Two Top Yellowstone Winter Tours) Trip Advisor page.

As the federal Government shutdown continues into its third week, many different communities throughout the U.S. have begun to feel its effects in different ways. 

National Parks currently remain open and unchecked with no employees to collect individual entrance fees. However, some parks such as California’s Kings Canyon have begun to close to due to health and safety concerns resulting from overflowing trash and garbage that has not been maintained in the absence of federal employees.

In an effort to keep the park maintained and tourists coming, local businesses in the gateway town of West Yellowstone, Montana, have begun to pick up the slack until federal budgets can be agreed upon and approved, allowing employees to return to work as usual.

Increasingly popular during the winter months, between 20,000 to 30,000 people visit Yellowstone National Park each month to snowmobile the park’s groomed roads and trails and see remarkable sights such as the historic Old Faithful geyser. 

During the shutdown, guide and tour companies – known as concessionaires – that operate primarily within the park have agreed upon a cost-sharing program to maintain the necessary budget to groom the nearly 300 miles of paved roads throughout the park.

At a total maintenance cost of nearly $7,500 a day, each concessionaire has agreed to cover its fair share. As one of the largest, Xanterra Parks and Resorts is covering the bulk of the tab, but Two Top Yellowstone Winter Tours is another involved in the cost-sharing pool.

One of the views along a Yellowstone snowmobile trail. Photo courtesy of Two Top Snowmobile Rentals (now Two Top Yellowstone Winter Tours) Trip Advisor page.

“Between all the concessionaires we are contributing to that total per day, and with that money we are able to keep the park open so the National Parks Service does not have to do it,” said David McCray, owner of Two Top Yellowstone Winter Tours. “Each park superintendent can decide whether or not to keep a park open, and without the [collective concessionaire] funding it would not be possible.” 

Without proper maintenance trails can become rough with moguls and bumps as well as unsafe from unpredictable weather conditions causing branches to pathways. Services such as bathrooms can also be disrupted.

“It’s going well, and everyone is chipping in. Every time we send guides into the park we have extra supplies for the bathrooms and pick them up,” McCray said. “There’s still law enforcement and essential services like ambulances. It’s pretty much business as usual.”

Despite their collective efforts, the Old Faithful geyser and Grand Canyon visitor centers remain closed during the shutdown due to staff being deemed “non-essential.” All snowmobiles entering Yellowstone are required to be in a registered and guided group, and McCray claims the park has so far not dealt with any “rogue snowmobilers.”

But what if the shutdown lasts weeks, or even the entire season? Last week President Trump indicated the impasse could potentially “last years.”

“If [the shutdown] lasts into February we may have to rethink [the cost-sharing plan], but that’s a long ways away. Hopefully that doesn’t happen,” McCray said. “There’s a lot jobs that depend on keeping these services. Unfortunately it’s not working out so well in other parks, but Yellowstone is different.”

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