For tourists, Yellowstone more like Walley World

(IDAHO FALLS) POST REGISTEROctober 3, 2013 

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Four months ago, Jimmy Howe sold his home in Scotland, quit his job and packed his belongings with one destination in mind: Yellowstone National Park.

He rode his Triumph Tiger motorcycle through Europe, Mongolia, Russia and Japan before getting on a plane bound for Vancouver.

On Tuesday, he was somber as he sat atop his motorcycle in front of the sign between him and his dream destination: “Closed: Yellowstone Park. Government Shutdown. No Visitor Access.”

After traveling 17,000 miles, he arrived a day late.

“This has been on my list of places to go for a long time,” Howe said. “I’m disappointed.”

So were hundreds of other travelers from around the world who excitedly rode up to the park’s West Entrance only to be turned away. Bleary-eyed and angry, they were like the Griswolds who drove across the country to Walley World in National Lampoon’s “Vacation,” only to find it closed.

Many visitors stopped to take a picture in front of the brown Yellowstone National Park sign, just to say they were there.

With Congress failing to agree on a bill to fund the government, many federal agencies furloughed staffs and shut down recreational sites and offices. One was Yellowstone, which furloughed 261 of its 421 employees, along with closing its gates and kicking people out of the park.

On a normal October day, Arrick Swanson’s Fly Shop makes 50 to 60 sales. Just a few people came to his shop Tuesday.

“October is a tremendous time to fish in the park,” Swanson said. “We’ve only got about 20 more days of good fishing left.”

If the shutdown doesn’t end soon, Swanson will be forced to cut hours.

A city that was bustling with hikers, bikers, walkers and photographers less than two weeks ago is now silent. Few wandered the streets, and parking lots were empty. The worst part is that no one can tell visitors when the park will reopen.

Chai Luquan, his wife and a friend came from China with the sole purpose of visiting the park. Luquan planned his entire year around the trip. Now he’s in Montana for a week without a park to visit.

He’ll wait around West Yellowstone for another day or two, he said, but he’ll likely head somewhere else if the shutdown isn’t solved.

Marysue Costello, West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce director, is encouraging businesses to help visitors find other places, such as Mesa Falls, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, and Bear World.

“We know we are more than Yellowstone, but we are aware that many people come because of Yellowstone,” Costello said.

For Howe, Yellowstone was at the top of his bucket list. He has no idea whether he’ll be able to return.

“Life’s been marching on, so I wanted to finally see it,” he said.

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