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Jackson Chamber leads charge to open Yellowstone East Gate

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JACKSON, Wyo. – Businesses in Jackson, Wyo. wanted their Yellowstone Park entrance gates to open on time, even though the National Park Service has delayed scheduled openings due to sequestration budget cuts. So they raised the money.

The Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with a number of local and state partners, has raised the $70,600 it will take to plow the South gate and to have it ready to open by May 10, its originally scheduled opening date.

Cody, Wyo.’s Chamber has also been working on a solution to open the East and/or Northeast gates by May 3. The park currently plans to open those gates May 17 and May 24, respectively.

Yellowstone Supt. Dan Wenk will allow an outside entity to plow on the East Road, and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead agreed to let the Wyoming Department of Transportation do that plowing.

However, the state will not fund this effort, which will cost an estimated $100,000. The average per-mile plowing cost is $4,400, and this total amount includes some contingency funds should unforeseen circumstances like a major spring snowstorm arise.

The Cody Chamber is working to raise the money by April 1, and its board of directors has voted to match all donations with money from the Chamber’s reserve account, up to $50,000.

Donors will have the option to have a pro-rated amount refunded based on what is actually spent on the plowing, or they can choose to have the chamber replenish its “snowy day” fund with any money raised but not spent.

“There are a number of important economic and public relations reasons to support this,” wrote the Cody Chamber’s executive director Scott Balyo in an email to members.

“First, it will preserve our early season business and instill confidence in travelers who may have considered cancelling their trip to the Cody/Yellowstone area. We’ll be able to say, ‘Cody and Yellowstone National Park are open for business!’”

Last year, he noted, more than 11,000 people traveled through the East Gate during those first two weeks.

“Second,” Balyo wrote, “this issue has generated a significant amount of local, regional and national press. We will be able to say that a small community, a rural state and a national park came together to fix a challenge created by the national budget cuts.”

Balyo told members that although “this shouldn’t be our problem to solve, the fact is, if we don’t take care of it, no one else is going to.” The chamber, he noted, is only committed for one year.

In addition to the Cody Chamber of Commerce, other groups have worked on this project including Gov. Mead’s office, WYDOT, Yellowstone National Park staff, the Wyoming Department of Transportation, state legislators, Cody Mayor Nancy Brown, Park County Commissioners, Park County Travel Council and representatives from Xanterra and Jackson, Wyo.

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