CASPER, Wyo. — Their first real vacation together was in Jackson. She was from Chicago, he from Spokane, Wash. He told her he loved her on that trip.
When Sara Cook and Adam Bartch decided to marry, they knew Jackson was the place.
Their wedding photographer suggested Schwabacher’s Landing in Grand Teton National Park. It’s one of the iconic spots; the Tetons frame a lake surrounded by green meadows and pines. Everything was booked, and then sequestration hit.
Cook found out on Facebook that the National Park Service wouldn’t open Schwabacher’s this year. Her wedding location would have to be moved.
Cook became one of 35 brides shifted from one spot to another after the federal automatic spending cuts triggered on March 1 forced the park to slash 5 percent of its budget. Schwabacher’s was one of several outlying locations closed for the season to save on staffing.
Some Grand Teton visitors wonder if closures like this one were really necessary, while park officials say their decision will affect the least number of people.
Rock Springs photographer Chad Banks goes to the park nearly every month. He used to visit Schwabacher’s in the mornings for its sunrises.
“It’s a hugely popular spot for photographers,” he said. “If you’re there at sunrise when the sun is hitting the mountains, you’re jockeying in that position among easily 40 or so photographers.”
Banks knows he can go back to the spot some other time when it’s open again, but he worries about visitors hoping for that view. All the Park Service needs to do is open the gate. He wonders if closing the spot is a way to hurt the public as a result of the sequestration, Banks said.
The closures were made carefully and in no way as a punishment to visitors, said Jackie Skaggs, spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park.
“Everyone has their favorite place in Grand Teton National Park,” she said. “We looked at the places that weren’t the highly visited places in the park, and where we’d have the least impact on the least amount of people.”
More popular and more central locations such as Jenny Lake and Moose will still be open for the summer.
The park needed to cut $700,000 from its $12.5 million budget, Skaggs said. A portion of that came from freezing more than 20 seasonal positions, many of which were responsible for cleaning bathrooms, picking up garbage, law enforcement patrol and general maintenance.
If the Park Service locks the bathroom, which would save some employee time, people will often use nature, which creates a bigger maintenance problem, she said.
“It boils down to, if we’re going to have two or three fewer seasonal employees in the south district, we had to reduce the work load by some measure,” Skaggs said. “One person can only do so much work.”
Most of the brides took the change in stride, Skaggs said.
Cook and Bartch will now be married at the Moulton Barn, another iconic Grand Teton spot.
Only one bride chose not to move her wedding. While the road to Schwabacher’s will be closed, people can still walk to the lake. They can’t bring much for tables and chairs, and little to no decorations. The couple and their officiant will pack the ceremony in and out.