YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Nature conservation keeps Yellowstone National Park and its neighbors green in more ways than one. The millions of eco-tourists who flock to Yellowstone to make memories mean big business and money.
Keeping industry off Wyoming, Montana and Idaho’s 3,472 square miles earned the Gateway neighborhoods $630 million in 2021, the National Park Service and the US Geological Survey estimated.
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Yellowstone National Park’s 4.9 million visitors supported 8,740 jobs. Earnings totaled $294 million. The Visitor Spending Effects Report states that the spending added an additional $456 million in value to the area and resulted in $834 million in economic output for the gateway economies.
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“Yellowstone is the golden goose,” said Richard Parks, who owns Parks Fly Shop.
This spring and summer, Parks and its neighbors were reminded of just how dependent the local economy is on Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, pristine streams teeming with fish and horn elk. Record floods in June obliterated streets and closed all entrances to the park. Thousands of visitors were evacuated on national television.
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“Our summer (was) cancelled. Literally a tsunami of post-flood cancellations,” describes Parks of Gardiner, Montana.
Yellowstone’s gates were closed for over four months. Crews worked 7 days a week to rebuild bridges, roads and housing in and around the park.
“Business went down between 60 and 90%. And that goes for those who have stayed open,” said Bill Berg, a Park County, Montana, commissioner. “And there were some who just saw the writing on the wall and just completed and cut their losses.”
The infrastructure damage of over $60 million came as no surprise to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly.
“Most of the infrastructure in US national parks was built in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, really before climate change was really part of the conversation,” Sholly said. “And when we see these climate events, whether they’re hurricanes, fires or floods, affecting our infrastructure, that’s an opportunity in a way.”
He and other officials took the opportunity and rebuilt the roads to withstand more traffic and more of Mother Nature’s wrath. One highway in particular is now a two lane paved roadway after the old single lane road dating back to 1879 was washed away.
Congress declared the area the first protected national park in 1872. The United Nations reaffirmed the need to preserve biodiversity and in 1976 declared the park a biosphere reserve, one of the first in the world.
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The UN then designated Yellowstone as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1978. Yellowstone was the first in the US
“There are some places that are so unique and special that we need to put them aside and preserve them for the future,” said Rich Jehle, Yellowstone’s Supervisory Park Ranger. “And not just necessarily intact, exactly as they were at any given point in time, but preserving the processes, the natural way things interact, the way the ecosystem works, the way Wildlife interacting with geology.
Residents and conservationists agree that the unique ecosystem, geology and landscape should be saved, studied and made available for all to learn from and enjoy. Locals in the Gateway neighborhoods are thankful that visitor spending allows residents to enjoy the beauty year-round.
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“Yellowstone is such a wonder and we are so fortunate to live in this area. You really just can’t get over how amazing these geological images are and what the Earth can do,” said Jessica Olson, a conservationist with the Gallatin River Task Force.
“And just from a tourist perspective, that brings so much of the economy here,” Olson continued. “This area really relies on Yellowstone from that perspective.”
Most roads in Yellowstone are currently closed in preparation for winter activities such as snowmobiling. The park opens for the winter season on December 15th. The north entrance is open all year round.