The world famous Irma Hotel in Cody was raucous on Tuesday morning.
Thanks to a polarized Congress, a government shutdown booted tourists from all over the globe out of Yellowstone National Park.
Travelers prematurely exiting the park through the East Entrance sought shelter at the Irma, a hotel hand-built by Yellowstone pioneer Buffalo Bill Cody.
In broken English, Asians and Europeans explained their dilemma to Steve Franklin, a host at the hotel.
“They were pretty livid,” he said.
Franklin also received a swarm of phone calls early in the morning. People were canceling their upcoming trips to Yellowstone and — consequently — their stop at the Irma.
“It’s been going both ways,” Franklin said.
The national parks are looked upon as one of the biggest victims of the congressional intransigence that led to the shutdown. Tuesday’s Google “doodle” on its web search homepage had a sketch of national park patches commemorating the 123rd birthday of Yosemite National Park.
But the birthday homage came without any celebration. All parks closed their gates at 8 a.m. Tuesday. No new visitors will be allowed to enter until Congress passes a temporary budget to fund the government. The National Parks Service website wasn’t running. Thousands of park employees throughout the nation were furloughed and told to go home and wait for Congress to solve the dilemma.
A national park vacation may be high on the bucket lists of many American and international travelers, but with the shutdown in place, those who traveled across borders and oceans to Grand Teton and Yellowstone will have to do one of two things: hope Congress works out a deal so they can enter the park or make new plans before they go home.
The government shutdown spoiled the 4,000 mile national park tour planned by Alice and Richard Newman. When they departed from Yellowstone Tuesday morning, guards and barricades were blocking the entrance. They canceled their reservations at the north entrance town of Gardiner. They took a drive on the Beartooth and Chief Joseph highways and wound up at the Irma.
“It’s a big change,” Alice Newman said. “I keep thinking it will get settled.”
Their fall trip also included visits to Mount Rushmore, Bryce Canyon, Zion and other parks, but the shutdown has things on hold. The couple was excited to hear Mount Rushmore could be seen from the highway.
When they drove through Yellowstone after news of the park closing they saw the morbid mood of a shutdown kick in.
“You see the ramifications of the people whose livelihood depend on this and the sick look on their faces,” Richard Newman said.
At Grand Teton there was resistance by some visitors to leave, said park superintendent Mary Gibson.
Travelers were trying to cross blocked entryways. Rangers stopped them. Foul language and unfit behavior erupted out of the upset tourists.
No one was charged or arrested — they were just flustered with the state of government. Dealing with unhappy people is unfamiliar territory for park staff, Gibson said.
“[The shutdown] is devastating to morale,” she said. “It is not something any member of the National Park Service is wired to do. It is our nature to welcome and educate and bring visitors in to the park.”
Two hundred Grand Teton and 529 Yellowstone employees received furlough notices Tuesday.
Visitors were given 48 hours to exit the parks, and park administrators worked to get backcountry adventurists out as soon as possible.
More than 520 people spent Monday evening in Grand Teton National Park. More than 515 were booked for Tuesday. Yellowstone had strong numbers in attendance, according to park spokesman Al Nash.
Yellowstone averages 54,000 visitors in the first week of October, Nash said.
“That’s not quite the same number as our summer peak, but it has impacts,” Nash said. “Revenues for the park are associated with that and a significant financial impact to gateway communities that serve park visitors.”
The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce expects to lose between $200,000 and $300,000 per day if the shutdown lasts for more than a few days, said Scott Balyo, executive director of the chamber.
The Jackson Hole Chamber expects to lose $4 million, said Rick Howe, director of visitor services at the chamber.
The National Parks Conservation Association, park advocates and lobbyists in Washington, expect gateway communities throughout the country to lose $30 million per day in the shutdown.
Even though the majority of federal workers had been furloughed on Tuesday, the U.S. House passed a bill that would fund most national parks, D.C. city government and certain arms of the Veteran Affairs Department.
In a continued showing of the stalemate between both chambers of Congress, the Senate rejected the House bill and demanded legislation that would fund a fully operational government.
For federal employees the threat of a shutdown is nothing new. In the past three years, the government has come to the brink of shutdown at least twice.
Park advocates are weary of the constant budget battles that keep the fear of furloughs in the minds of employee. For an agency that spurs $30 billion in consumer spending every year, the 13 percent decrease in the NPS budget in the past three years has been tough to swallow along with the fear of furloughs.
It’s unfortunate that all the federal agencies have gotten so much practice in the budget battles, said Joan Anzelmo, a former park superintendent and spokeswoman for the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
“It’s an incredibly sad statement in the affairs of our country when the federal workforce is continued to be used as pawns every time Congress wants to have a battle,” she said.
Wyoming’s seven national forests are still open for the public, but campsites, bathrooms and other facilities are all closed. The Bighorn National Forest will cancel public meetings to collect public suggestions about proposals for three scenic byways that would run along the Bighorns. Devils Tower National Monument is closed to the public. And the National Elk Refuge will close most of its operations. There will be no public access, and all activities will be canceled on refuge lands.