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National budget cuts would impact Yellowstone, affect local economy

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Feb 21 2013 07:56:04 PM MST
Updated On: Feb 21 2013 09:13:16 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Folks at Yellowstone National Park are planning for the possibility of $1.75 million in proposed budget cuts. They say their hope is that Congress makes a deal before the cuts are set to go into effect but they've looked at their operations between March and September and identified ways to make changes they say will hopefully minimize impacts on visitors, staff and the park itself.

According to the Coalition of National Park Service retirees, the cuts could affect over 78,000 visitors and reduce park revenue by more than $150,000. The Coalition says cuts may mean the park delays hiring or hires fewer seasonal employees, extends unpaid furloughs for workers and reduces operating expenses.

Yellowstone National Park officials tell NBC Montana that if they see a budget reduction like the one that's proposed, it will have an impact their on services.  They say they looked at their operations for the rest of the fiscal year and came up ways they could make changes.

"In preparing that draft plan, our goal was to minimize any impacts that we might have on the quality of our visitor services on the protection of this special place and minimize the impacts on our staff," says Yellowstone National Park Spokesperson Al Nash.

Nash says the park hopes the cuts won't have to take effect but if they do those with the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees say it could mean a two to three-week delay in access to most entrances.

We sat down with Headwaters Economics Policy Director Chris Mehl to find out what this could mean for our economy. He says Yellowstone is a huge economic driver for Bozeman, Jackson and Cody, especially on an annual basis.

"Considering the timing, it's probably the least bad news that you're going to have.  Easier for me to say than a concessionaire in Cody, Wyoming," says Mehl.

Mehl says visitors are the main economic driver for many gateway communities, spending money at restaurants, hotels and gas stations and with fewer visitors.

"You're no longer having those jobs supported if they're not spending, the companies in Wyoming not hiring in April, they delay it or they don't have as many for the whole year," says Mehl.

But there's more.  He says uncertainty of how long the delay could last might deter folks looking to make travel arrangements.

"How many will cancel entirely?  How many won't come now?  How many will delay?  We don't know," says Mehl.

Folks with Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport says Yellowstone National Park is one of its main pillars and an impact on Yellowstone means an impact on the airport.

"It's before the peak season when we get into the June timeframe, then it really matters, but any impact in May is an impact in a slow month in the first place," says airport director Brian Sprenger.

Sprenger says a decrease in visitors may effect how airlines look at them, causing a more long-term effect.

"They're looking at their entire system and when they look at an individual market like Bozeman and they look at it for next year.  They'll look at what happened this year and so, if we have a poor showing this year, it could impact next year's traffic, as well," says Sprenger.

It's not just cuts for the National Park Service that have Sprenger worried.  He says it's the cumulative effect of a number of government agencies the airport works with, from TSA to the National Weather Service.

"It's the unknown.  If we know what's going to happen, we can adjust accordingly," says Sprenger.

At the end of the day, Sprenger says it all comes down to the customer and if it affects customers, he says the airport doesn't like it any more than they do.