YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Another national park shutdown could happen if an agreement to continue funding the government isn’t reached by the end of the day on Friday.
Past shutdowns have seen up to a third of national parks close and turn people away. Yellowstone is just barely open for the winter season but might have to close the gates by the end of the week — maybe.
The rules for how parks handle a government shutdown — if there even is a shutdown — this time around are more complicated.
One example is the gate at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, which will stay open no matter what as it’s the only way for residents of Silver Gate and Cooke City to get in and out.
The National Park Service isn’t talking about a shutdown, saying only that it won’t speculate on government activity and that all parks are open for business as usual.
The tourism businesses we attempted to speak to in West Yellowstone also declined to speak about a possible shutdown.
Meanwhile, Xanterra, the company that operates hotels, restaurants and other services in both Glacier and Yellowstone national parks told MTN News that it is optimistic but prepared in case of a shutdown.
There is a long and complex set of rules for parks at the U.S. Department of Interior website, and the document mostly leaves hard calls about keeping parks open to local superintendents.
The document says if there is a government shutdown then parks will notify the public that all visitor services including restrooms, trash collection, facilities, and road maintenance will cease.
Park staff will have four hours to wrap up their work and go on furlough and there are only a few exceptions based on public safety and law enforcement.
Park roads, lookouts, trails and the like will remain accessible so long as it is safe to do. But any facility that generally closes at night will close for the duration of the shutdown.
The Mammoth Hotel is currently closed for refurbishing, but the snow lodge at Old Faithful is open, people have reservations and it would seem there is a lot of business to lose during the holidays.
The Interior Department says concessioners, like Xanterra, can continue to operate — at least in the short term — so long as it does not require regulatory oversight from the park service.
Yellowstone would never be completely abandoned in any case with law enforcement and some public safety people around.
The shutdown document further states that a total of 777 park service employees will stay on the job in the Intermountain Region during any shutdown.
The Interior Department instructions say the National Park Service should not shut down any areas unless there is an imminent threat to human life, safety or health, or unless there is an imminent threat to sensitive natural or cultural resources.
Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News