Parks in Northern Rockies Focus on Hiring After Shutdown

The shutdown delayed the hiring process that began last fall

By Justin Franz

HELENA — Glacier National Park workers are trying to figure out just how much the recent government shutdown set them back in hiring hundreds of summer workers. In Yellowstone, they’re catching up with a backlog of applications for filming, research and other special park uses.

And in Grand Teton, employees are jump-starting the vehicle fleet after five weeks of idleness left batteries drained and trying to get the permit system running.

Winter is a quiet season in the national parks of the Northern Rocky Mountains, and they didn’t face many of the problems that other parks did during the 35-day shutdown , including human waste, trash piles and graffiti.

But it’s also a critical time to prepare for the busy summer season, when millions of tourists will visit the three parks. The shutdown threatened to knock those efforts off schedule, as does another potential shutdown this month if President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders can’t agree on funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

After returning to work this week, Glacier officials’ main concern was seeing how far behind they were in seasonal hiring. The Montana park’s year-round staff of 100 swells by an additional 400 to 500 starting in April. They work as rangers, aquatic invasive species inspectors, maintenance workers and trail crews during the peak season from June to September.

The shutdown delayed the hiring process that began last fall.

“It’s a very significant part of winter work for us,” spokeswoman Lauren Alley said. “We don’t know yet quite how far behind we are.”

No Glacier facilities were damaged during the shutdown, which typically sees between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors in January — that’s about half of what the park sees in one day in July, Alley said.

At Yellowstone, spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said the shutdown also had “minimal” negative effects.

Warthin said staffers at the park straddling Montana, Wyoming and Idaho were almost done working through a backlog of applications for filming, research and other special uses.

The shutdown delayed final approval of five scientific research permits. They have since been processed, and no projects were abandoned, officials said.

Park rangers responded to more than 200 incidents during the shutdown that ranged from snowmobiles in closed areas to medical calls and car crashes. Overall, the numbers were down slightly from the same period last year, officials said.

To maintain access to the middle of the park, which in winter can only be reached by snowmobile or similar means, concessioners donated $280,000 to pay about 15 Yellowstone employees to groom snow-covered roads.

About 200 park employees were furloughed during the shutdown and about 115 kept working.

Visitor numbers held relatively steady through the shutdown, with some areas receiving slightly higher numbers than usual because there were no entrance fees, officials said. Precise figures were not available.

It’s going to take another week or two to get Grand Teton’s online permit system back up, and, like Glacier, park officials said getting back to seasonal hiring was their top priority.

There was no damage to facilities or resources, but it will take time for things to get back to normal, spokesman Andrew White said. Grand Teton staff applied one lesson from the last shutdown in 2013 that made this week’s return a little easier, he said.

“They didn’t clean out refrigerators,” White said of the 2013 shutdown. “So on the last day (before this shutdown), we put out a note to everybody.”

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