Partial treatise on the economic issue(s)

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 10:28:59 05/23/14

In Reply to: Key phrase-- lower quality visitor experience posted by Gracie


You raised some legitimate issues, and I want to address as many as I feel somewhat qualified to.

The issue of early and late season tour bus impact is a gnarly one. (In late September and early October, we also see a flood of private vehicle traffic in and out of the West Entrance.) I think that many years ago the NPS had a greater ability to control the supply and demand during the shoulder season via the availability of in-park lodging. I attribute the relatively recent surge in West Entrance activity to the construction of many new hotels in West Yellowstone over the past 2 decades. (Some traffic comes from the Big Sky area, which has also seen lots of lodging expansion.)

There are other areas of Yellowstone where the supply and demand model is manipulated by outside forces. Here's a few examples: 1.) Grant Village sees a serious drop in demand throughout September. I think they close earlier than they might have years ago. The South Entrance traffic seems to fall off rapidly once the schools reopen. 2.) Canyon and Lake see a serious drop in visitor traffic in October. Simply put, the critter watching opportunities plummet once the elk start heading south, and the predators start migrating out or readying for hibernation. The weather starts getting plenty cold.

In spring, the road opening schedule tends to act as a control, up to a point. Of course, the road between the West Entrance and Old Faithful is one of the first to open, so the bus traffic can commence in the second half of April.

As I look at the key stakeholders, i.e. the business community, the NPS, and the tour operators, I see an almost impossible situation. As I mentioned in my other post, the businesses in West Yellowstone are motivated to maximize their revenue potential. For many, they only have so many months in the year to make a year's worth of income. The NPS operates on a fairly tight budget, and despite some critic's claims that they somehow are greatly enriched by fees they get from park concessioners, the fact is that the park gets virtually no funding contribution from the tour bus traffic. The entrance fees roll up to some national NPS account. There was a fee demonstration project years ago that was supposed to deliver half the entrance fee revenues back to the parks collecting them. I don't know if that was made permanent. The tour operators typically offer a discount on those real early or real late season tours. Their profit margins are fairly thin in that timeframe. I'm not sure how amenable they would be to paying something resembling an "impact fee". If I was a tour operator, I might be tempted to say "sure, I'll pay up, providing you administer proportionate impact fees to all those private vehicle operators".

It sounds like you may have experienced a major lapse in day to day maintenance activities. I hope that it was the result of some sort of mandatory attendance meeting or training of the maintenance staff. If not, then we have a management issue. They are responsible for having the resources in place to get the job done. Of course, as consumers of park services, we have the right to voice our displeasure. (Over the years, I have written letters to both the NPS and to concessioners on problems I felt strongly about. I've seen mixed results.)

There is that notion that "you get what you settle for". You have taken the time to surface your concerns, which is appropriate.

I think I will take the time to address the driving behavior issue in a third post.


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