By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
The closure of Yellowstone National Park after the devastating floods this week has put a sizable dent in the projected income for businesses small and large in northwest Wyoming.
Although the National Park Service intends to reopen the park’s south loop sometime next week (from the east, south and west gates), the closure has already had an impact on gateway communities.
“The first couple of days after the flood, it was mass pandemonium, because everybody was being led out of the Park,” said Diane Syring, who with her husband owns the Parkway RV Campground in Cody. “Now we’re getting cancellations, or re-bookings for the end of the summer.”
Syring said the campground has been fielding phone calls from potential visitors inquiring about the status of access to Yellowstone, but she added she and her husband expect very light occupancy until the Fourth of July.
That’s when things will become more “normal,” Syring said, thanks to an anticipated increase in visitors for Cody’s annual Stampede Rodeo celebration.
Dan Miller, who operates and performs in a music performance attraction in Cody, said his business has been affected by the shutdown, as many motorcoach companies have canceled tours to the area.
“Our summer was off to a fabulous start, until this all happened,” Miller said. “After 18 years in business, 99% of our clientele are tourists traveling in the motorcoach industry. So, obviously, this has been a setback for us. Our prayer is that it’s a temporary setback.”
Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, told Cowboy State Daily there’s no way to tell at this point exactly what the economic damage will ultimately be.
“We’ll be doing some projections of our own, based on visitor volume and not having Mammoth available, not having Tower, you know, all of those places, that’s going to be a lot less inventory,” Shober said. “I think we could make a pretty educated guess… But it’s going to be a little bit hard.”
Misinformation is also hampering efforts to get a handle on the economic situation, according to Sarah Growney, who owns a retail store in Cody.
“I won’t even tell you what the rumor mill is that I’ve been hearing in my shop this morning,” she said, referring to false assumptions held by customers that the park would be closed for the rest of the summer. “The amount of misinformation that gets spread is crazy, which makes it all the more important for us to get out the facts.”
And it’s not just small businesses in gateway communities that are feeling the hit. The National Park Service is missing out on millions of dollars in revenue just on park entrance fees alone.
Last June, Yellowstone recorded 938,845 visitors. That breaks down to an average of 30,285 visitors per day. Assuming each vehicle entering the park carries an average of three passengers and pays an entrance fee of $35 per vehicle, that’s up to $353,325 the Park is missing out on for every day Yellowstone remains closed.
Not Only Northwest
But northwest Wyoming isn’t the only region that will experience the economic shockwave. Shober referred to the motorcoach cancellations as an example of the impact Yellowstone’s closure will have in other parts of the state.
“Tauck (Tours) also books with the TA Guest Ranch outside of Buffalo,” Shober said, “so now they’ve canceled their overnights in Cody because they can’t go into Yellowstone – and now they’re canceling in Buffalo, Wyoming, a half-day’s drive away. And so, those are going to be the ripple effects.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be minimized to just a couple of weeks,” Shober continued. “But you know, I don’t know yet.”
According to a press release issued Friday morning, park officials intend to reopen the south loop sometime next week, albeit with new visitor management measures instituted to limit the strain on resources.
“We have an aggressive plan for recovery in the north and resumption of operations in the south,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said.
And Sholly reminded those on a conference call with Cody businesses Wednesday that the situation is still fragile.
“My goal is to balance access to Yellowstone to the best degree possible,” Sholly said, “and at the same time giving you some predictability in relationship to the people that we want to come to Cody, the reservations that have already been made.”