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Government shutdown and snowmobile regulations hurt business in West Yellowstone

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Dec 15 2013 06:48:58 PM MST
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. -

Yellowstone National Park's opened for the winter season on Sunday, after the Federal Government Shutdown closed the park for more than 16 days in October.
We went to West Yellowstone on Sunday to see how much that hurt businesses in the area, and learned, even with the park open again, they're still hurting.

Lea Anne Reinsch is a manager at Cradle Board, a souvenir shop in West Yellowstone.

She explained she feels lucky that the business wasn't hurt much during the shutdown.

"The shutdown came late in the fall, so fortunately it didn't affect us that much," she said.

We asked her if they'll be able to make up any lost revenue during this winter season, but she said the winter comes with its own set of problems.

"What hurts us more as far as economy goes is the limit of snowmobiles into the park where you have to have a guide, and that's been going on for over ten years," she explained. "That's really killed the winter business here in West Yellowstone."

Vanessa Hansen works at Travelers Snowmobile Rentals. She explained the limits on snowmobiles are an effort to protect the environment in the park.

"People wouldn't stay on trails," she said, "people were harassing the animals. and so there was a need for change."

But she said these restrictions have changed the dynamics of who comes to Yellowstone during the winter.

"It's about $200 per person to even go into the park, which some people can do that but a lot of people, if you had a large family, it's an expensive trip," she said.

And for Reinsch, that's what hurts her business.

"We've noticed over a 50 percent decline in the peak years we used to have when anybody could go into the park without a guide," she said.

Businesses in West Yellowstone said the government shutdown was an economically painful bump in the road, but more than anything, it was a lesson in how dependent their businesses are on operations running smoothly in Yellowstone Park.

"This town really depends on the park for a lot of things, and if people can't go in or if things change, it's really hard to keep our businesses," Hansen said.

Here's some more information about the winter season opening in Yellowstone:

It opens up the park's roads to commercially guided snowmobiles and snow coaches, and covers the Gardner, West Yellowstone and South entrances.

The east entrance, over Sylvan Pass, is set to open next Sunday, December 22.

Park officials are reminding visitors to check weather and road conditions often, saying park weather can be unpredictable this time of year.