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National parks back up to speed in stages

February 2, 2019 GMT

When national park employees returned to work after weeks of a partial government shutdown, some had to wait for roads to be plowed out so they could reach their offices. Others sat down to computers bloated with a backlog of emails.

“After 35 days of furlough, we have quite a few emails to sift through,” Yellowstone National Park public information officer Linda Veress said via email. “We are doing our best to work through them and get back up to speed.”

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks began bringing facilities back online this week. Yellowstone opened its visitor centers and began collecting fees at its entrance gates Sunday. Most of its furloughed employees returned to work Monday.

“We had a big work day yesterday shoveling out snow and getting everything ready for the public,” said Ted Stout, Crater of the Moon’s chief of interpretation and education said Wednesday. “We had to do a lot of digging out of the different facilities.”

Entrance stations at Grand Teton National Park started collecting fees Monday.

Grand Teton National Park spokesman Denise Germann said coming back to work meant spending a big part of her Monday helping dig out fleet vehicles buried in snow.

“This is a time of year when we do a lot of planning for the upcoming summer season,” Germann said. “We’re looking at that and prioritizing what needs to be done. There’s a lot that needs to be done to catch up a little bit.”

Grand Teton National Park crews cleared snow on the north end of the Moose-Wilson Road between Murie Ranch Road junction and Death Canyon Road junction. Ranger-led snowshoe hikes will begin Tuesday and be held Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays through mid-March. The park’s backcountry reservation system — usually running in early January — will start at 8 a.m. Feb. 11.

Seasonal hiring for the parks, which usually begins in January, has resumed.

Craters of the Moon’s snow school program, which takes school students on snowshoe hikes, was interrupted by the shutdown, but a monument spokesman said all of the schools have been rescheduled and accommodated.

Yellowstone National Park had more than 200 employees furloughed during the shutdown. All three park operations had some people working during the shutdown performing essential duties including law enforcement, medical response, plowing, and maintenance of water, wastewater and heating systems.

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton had groups step forward during the shutdown to groom trails and even pay for some staff to provide some services. Veress said there were about 15 employees who groomed oversnow roads and were paid through donations by concessioners. Xanterra Travel Collection and other winter concessioners donated a total of $280,250 for the purpose of maintaining oversnow access to the interior of Yellowstone. Other park workers were paid using the park’s recreation fee revenue starting Jan. 13. Normally those funds are used for facility improvements and maintenance.

“We’re slower this time of year as far as visitors, but we’re super busy working on projects and hiring people for the summer and doing a lot of planning and such,” a Craters of the Moon spokesman said. “It definitely throws a monkey wrench in all that.”