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Cuts To Grand Teton National Park's Staff Will Delay Emergency Response, Close Some Facilities


Budget cuts will translate into longer emergency response time by Grand Teton National Park rangers, and some closed facilities, this summer. Photo by QT Luong via

Climbers, backcountry travelers, and even front-country campers at Grand Teton National Park will face longer response times if they get in trouble this year as a result of federal budget cuts, according to the park superintendent.

Rangers that patrol the Tetons, Jackson Lake, and the Snake River will be stretched a bit thin by the budget sequestration, potentially leaving visitors to fend for themselves for a while if they are hurt or lost.

“We’re trying to minimize the impacts on visitor services these cuts would have. However, there is no way to take this reduction without reducing the amount of services we provide," Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said Monday during a telephone call with reporters.

All park visitors could notice a reduction in services, as the need to trim $700,000 from Grand Teton's budget is leading to reduced seasonal ranger staffing, closed visitor centers, and closure of some areas of the park, she said.

“We know there will be delays in responding to search and rescue, as well as medical emergencies and law enforcement," the superintendent said. "Our responsibilities I take very seriously on both employee and visitor safety. We are trying to maintain those functions to the degree we can. I just think that we will have delays in pulling together if there’s a major search and rescue, being able to pull all the resources we need.”

Grand Teton averages 70-75 search-and-rescue incidents a year, ranging from aiding visitors who twist an ankle and looking for lost children to rescuing climbers from the mountains.

Across the National Park System park managers are cutting here and there to bring their budgets in line with the across-the-board cuts agreed upon by the Congress and the White House. Parks such as Yellowstone and Acadia are pushing their spring opening dates back a month, some campgrounds will remain closed in places like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and backcountry toilets might not get pumped out.

Multiplying the problems created by the sequestration is the fact that those cuts are heaped on a general budget shrinkage, Superintendent Gibson pointed out.

“These cuts come on top of a flat budget for the past four fiscal years, and when adjusted for inflation our budget has actually declined by approximiately 8 percent over that time period. That number is prior to sequestration taking effect," she said.

A bit more than half of the $700,000, some $372,000, in cuts are being made by reducing the ranks of seasonal rangers by 26. While the park hires approximately 180 seasonal rangers each year, only about 90 of those are paid for through Grand Teton's base operating budget. The other 90 are funded through grants targeted at specific projects, such as removing invasive plants or maintaining trails.

"We depend on our seasonals to operate the parks during the summer, staffing the visitor centers, road patrol, managing wildlife jams, firefighting, search-and-rescue and emergency response, and custodial, such as cleaning restrooms," the superintendent explained.

As a result of fewer seasonal rangers, hours of the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center at Moose, the Colter Bay Visitor Center, and the Jenny Lake Visitor Center will most likely be reduced this year, she said. However, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center and the Flagg Ranch Information Station will be closed entirely, as will the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.

"We will also not be able to provide ranger-led interpretive or education programs as we have in the past. We will provide limited programs at visitor centers ... although we will not provide the typical array of programs, such as the campfire talks and the majority of ranger-led walks," said Superintendent Gibson.

Areas that will be closed include the Spalding Bay, Two Ocean Lake, and Schwabacher's Landing areas, as the park lacks the staff to maintain the restrooms and trash at those sites, she said. Eight dispersed-site campgrounds along the Grassy Lake Road in the John D. Rockefeller Parkway also will not open this summer, the superintendent added.

While the park is delaying its snow removal operations on the Teton Park Road by about two weeks, until April 1, snowfall was not great this past winter and the park staff should be able to open the road on schedule on May 1, she said. "Other roads will be allowed to naturally melt out this spring. These include Moose-Wilson, Antelope Flats, Signal Mountain Summit, and Death Canyon," the superintendent added.

"This has not been an easy exercise for any park manager. To try and figure out, in the middle of March, how you'll run a park in full summer operations (with reduced staff and funding)," Superintendent Gibson said. "We’ve had to actually withdraw offers to seasonals that were already made, as we realized what cuts we would have to make when we got our numbers and what the percentages were."


$700,000? Heck that is less than a Biden two night stay in Paris/London hotels.

Or an Obama golf game with Tiger.


(sources and facts provided)

I read last week that Jackson and Cody were able to raise $170k to pay for the use of WY DOT plows to open up the South and East Entrances in Yellowstone on time.

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott stated this week that two of Grand Teton’s usual 20 Jenny Lake District climbing rangers will not come back this summer. “We know that there will be delays in responding to search and rescue,” she said, “as well as medical emergencies and [for] law enforcement.” Rather than looking inward to cut expenses, become efficient and manage effectively, the park will cut safety and welfare services to the visitor, even though it is those visitors who pay the taxes to maintain the park, pay the entrance and use fees that support the park and own the park. The Superintendent's management is a reflection of her complete disregard for her employers and is an attempt to blackmail.

Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott should be held personally accountable in the event a visitor's welfare is severely compromised by her decision to betray the American public.

Doesn't sound as if you feel the politicians who've made the budget cuts have any responsibility?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that funding at the Tetons isn't much different from what was described in another recent story on the Traveler about the Blue Ridge Parkway, which has experienced a steady decline in staffing levels over the past decade. "We’ve lost more than 25% of our total staff over the last ten years or so—and the sequester comes on top of that," according to that Superintendent.

Perhaps you have access to details that the situation is different at Grand Teton. Any of these budget decisions are a no-win situation for park managers and the entire staff - and for the visitors who may be impacted.

Jim - it sure would be informative to see the actual operating budget over the last ten years. It would certainly give more credibility to the cries of dispair. The overall budget of the NPS wouldn't suggest that 25% declines would be necessary.

EC - You're exactly right. I'm trying to find some specific details, but it's slow going, even with the "miracle of the Internet" :-) Hope to have some information by tomorrow afternoon.

Private sector businesses would have been grateful to only face 5% revenue declines over the last three years and have made far deeper cuts without betraying their customers.

Grand Teton staffing has more than doubled in recent years. The recent CATO Institute study concluded that a federal employee is compensated over twice as much as an employee in the private sector doing the same work and that the compensation gap is growing. To understand the real cost each added federal employee one must look beyond the posted wage and understand the liabilities: a seemingly limitless medical care plan, heavily subsidized child daycare, retirement benefit funding, additional subsidized retirement benefits such as long-term care, subsidized vision and dental care, up to 26 work days of paid vacation time each year, up to 13 workdays of sick leave, 10 paid federal holidays (work days to the rest of us), and subsidized housing.

Grand Teton National Park management is a reflection of the betrayal of the American public in Washington DC.

Grand Teton National Park management is a reflection of the betrayal of the American public in Washington DC.

Tim - I think that statement is a little, if not a lot, too strong. I've seen several studies of public vs private compensation and the delta is much smaller than 2x in those. I do think in general government jobs are at a premium, but that probably is more likely found in areas outside the NPS.

On the other hand, I do sense a concerted effort to demonize sequestration and an attempt to make the cuts in the most publicly painful rather than budget efficient manner and many park superintendents are willfully or by force, playing the game. I say "sense", because the "facts" just aren't there. Until the parks (and other govt entities) make public their full P& Ls. it is hard to give any of their cries much credence. Hopefully Jim will make some progress in that regard.

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