About 15 tourists are staying in Cooke City, one of several tiny gateway towns leading into Yellowstone National Park. Hopefully, they are enjoying their visit in the scenic area. That’s because thanks to the ongoing federal government shutdown, the tourists are literally trapped inside Cooke City.
“We're trapped,” Bill Anderson, 70, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “It's nuts.”
Heavy snowfall has blocked the main road leading out of Cooke City. And an alternate route is only accessible by locals who are able to purchase a pass granting them permission to navigate the tricky terrain.
The only way for a tourist to gain access to the road is through a medical emergency.
On Tuesday, tourists were instructed to leave Yellowstone as the government shutdown went into effect. Visitors who were camping or staying in hotels on federal government land were given 48 hours to leave or make accomodations elsewhere, as the nation’s 84 million acres of federal parkland were shuttered for the foreseeable future.
Although no absolute numbers are available, local officials say that other tourists are likely temporarily stranded in other small towns that serve as gateways to Yellowstone.
Some observers say public outrage over the shutdown of national parks during the last government shutdown in 1995 helped serve as a catalyst to getting the government back open for business.
In the meantime, Anderson and his fellow stranded tourists are spending a lot of time at Buns N Beds, the only business (other than a gas station) still open for business in Cooke City during the snowstorm and government shutdown impasse.
However, even the owner of Buns N Beds says the restaurant monopoly has not been good for business. “I just wish we could get this thing resolved. I still got to pay the light bill, I still got to pay the mortgage,” owner Leo Gaerther told the Chronicle. “That doesn't go away. They don't care whether (Yellowstone) is open or closed. It's something people don't think about, but that's just how it is.”
The president of the Cody County Chamber of Commerce said that they have been trying to accommodate displaced tourists. And while some local businesses have experienced a short term sales boost, the overall effect could be devastating on businesses that rely on Yellowstone tourism dollars.
“If we do not have the revenue here from visitors who come to Yellowstone, we will not be able to sustain our level of staffing or services,” Bruce Eldredge, executive director of the Buffalo Bill Center museum complex, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s a major issue when the federal government can’t keep its house in order.”
For his part, Anderson is still hoping everything will work out according to schedule. He and his wife are scheduled to leave Cooke City on October 18, the day after members of Congress are expected to vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.
In the meantime, Anderson says he has been attempting to contact his local Kansas congressman over the phone and mail. But so far, Anderson says he hasn’t received a response.
“We're screwed. But I'm not willing to be screwed silently,” he told the Chronicle. “You got to open your mouth.”