“Getting harder every day” Community members step up to help furloughed park employees

Posted at 4:12 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 18:12:43-05

With the partial shutdown of the federal government now more than a month long, federal workers in Yellowstone National Park are feeling the strain.

Residents near the park say help is flowing in but it may not be enough – and they’re stepping up to support their friends, families, and neighbors.

Working for the park is a mainstay in Gardiner. Mammoth, Yellowstone National Park’s headquarters, is just up the hill from the community. That means a high percentage of people in the town are affected by the federal government shutdown.

“Our community’s hurting,” said James Halfpenny, president of Naturalists World. “And, when even one of our community hurts, especially because of outside forces, we’re all hurting.”

So Halfpenny, Katy Wilkinson and Jenni Burr are just three of many people who stepped up to help their friends.

“We wanted to have something available to employees who might not feel comfortable for whatever reason coming into a food pantry,” said Jenni Burr, a furloughed worker.

So the two women organized a community table of sorts in the Mammoth Community center. Commodities, even some fresh food are available to pick up.

“And right now, at the local Conoco, people can go in and get gas cards,” Burr added.

The Gardiner Market is extending accounts to park workers and there’s even help for people working deep in the interior of the park.

“I’ve got a good working relationship with a lot of them where I felt like I could ask some of the hard questions about how they really were doing,” said Katy Wilkinson, park employee: “I did start to get some feedback where there was a need.”

But the logistics of getting help to those extremely remote areas is challenging.

“You do snowmobile in and out of those places,” said Wilkinson. “It’s very weather dependent. And those are long trips to make by yourself on a snowmobile.”

Wilkinson knows. She used to live in the interior. Now, the women are getting supplies in with the help of oversnow delivery trucks.

Meanwhile, Halfpenny reached out to his fellow researchers.

“All over the United States, literally,” he said.

Halfpenny hoped to raise a few hundred dollars. Instead, he got thousands.

“The response mostly from people is thank you for doing this,” Halfpenny said. “Our federal workers need the help.”

The money Halfpenny is collecting is also helping to help park workers pay monthly bills. Halfpenny says if there is any money left over at the end of the shutdown, the remaining money will be given to the Gardiner Food Pantry.

For those furloughed, it’s not just money that’s such a challenge to spirits and morale. Not working at a job most dearly love is disheartening.

“They are having such a hard time just coming to terms of not being, not being able to go to work to do the job that they love,” said Burr.

Reporting by John Sherer for MTN News