With a federal government shutdown looming after Saturday, Yellowstone and Teton national parks in Wyoming could be all but shuttered up starting Monday.
That, or park supervisors could come up with creative work-arounds to keep at least some services going, a retired high-ranking U.S. Department of the Interior official told Cowboy State Daily.
“Knowing the caliber of the superintendents in Yellowstone and Teton, they will be doing everything they can to keep serving the public,” Rob Wallace said Friday.
He lives in northwest Wyoming and retired in 2021 as the assistant U.S. secretary of the interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Chances of a shutdown continue to become more likely as Congress still remained deadlocked Friday afternoon over whether to extend federal funding beyond Saturday.
The Department of the Interior released a statement Friday, warning people to be ready for an essential shutdown of national parks and other federally funded sites.
“In the event of a lapse in annual government appropriations, National Park Service (NPS) sites will be closed,” the agency said. “This means that the majority of national parks will be closed completely to public access. Areas that, by their nature, are physically accessible to the public will face significantly reduced visitor services.”
That might not mean the gates to Yellowstone and other parks will be closed, but people venturing into them “should expect that many of the services and facilities they depend upon at national parks will be closed or largely unavailable during a shutdown,” the statement reads.
Amenities and services such as restroom and garbage collection could be shut down. However, services needed “to protect life and property,” such as law enforcement, would probably remain operational, according to the Interior Department.
In a brief email statement to Cowboy State Daily on Friday, the National Park Service said that if a shutdown happens, it will be business as usual Sunday, but the national parks will start to see the effects Monday.
Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which runs much of the lodging and dining in Yellowstone, was unsure of what might happen, a company spokesman told Cowboy State Daily.
“I can tell you that we don’t yet have any official guidance from NPS so are not in a position to provide any statements,” Rick Hoeninghausen, Xanterra’s Director of Sales and Marketing, wrote in a text message.
Wallace said he took office in the Interior Department shortly after a government shutdown that lasted from December 2018 until the spring of 2019.
“(Then President) Trump made a deliberate decision to keep the national parks open at that time,” Wallace said.
One potential stopgap during government shutdowns would be for Yellowstone and Teton to use money collected as gate fees to keep as many services as possible up and running, he said. For at least a short time, that could make up for expense normally covered by the Park Service’s long-term budgets.
He added that high-ranking park officials were probably scrambling to get alternative operational plans sent to headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“All of the park superintendents are probably submitting plans to Washington, D.C., as we speak, probably detailing how they plan to enforce the shutdown,” Wallace said. “I’m not privy to inside information right now, but the way it would work is the central office in D.C. would send a call out to the parks, asking them for their plans.”
‘Washington Monument Strategy’
The National Park Service could also strategically play upon the public’s love for places like Yellowstone, Wallace said.
“There could be some ‘Washington Monument strategy’ in play,” he said.
That term harkens to the days of President Richard Nixon’s administration, he explained. Then, frustrated by poor appropriation of funds, the superintendent of the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital shut the site down.
The idea was to use the resulting outcry from the public to put pressure on Congress and the Nixon administration to get things back on track, Wallace said.
Now, the NPS might be using a similar approach in hopes that a shutdown of national parks and other beloved sites will prompt a frustrated public to turn the up the heat on Congress to solve the impasse and get the money flowing again, he said.
However, a shutdown now toward “the tail end of season” in Yellowstone and Teton probably won’t have nearly the dire effect it would have had at the hight of the summer tourist season, Wallace said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.