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Roosevelt Arch

Wild bison graze on the Gardiner High School football field near Yellowstone's Roosevelt Arch in March 2017.

When Chuck Tanner posted blurbs on Facebook asking for volunteers to help clean up the 56-mile northern route through Yellowstone National Park, more than 50 people showed up in Gardiner. Some drove from as far away as Billings and Bozeman.

“This is our park, it’s everybody’s park and it reflects on our community,” said Tanner, owner of the KBar in Gardiner. So on Saturday, Mike Skelton led about 15 volunteers most of the way to Cooke City. They collected trash and cleaned pit toilets west to Roosevelt Junction. On Sunday, Tanner split nearly 40 volunteers into two groups that started cleaning at Mammoth Village and at Roosevelt Junction, meeting midway.

Saturday volunteers found nasty messes on toilet floors, according to The Bozeman Chronicle. They needed determination and strong stomachs to get the work done.

Tanner, who has lived in Gardiner for about 15 years, said the trash overflow and toilet conditions weren’t as bad as he had feared. The tourists he observed Sunday appeared to be following park rules. “We were keeping an eye out and nobody was doing anything bad. They were all very respectful.”

Along with trying to keep Yellowstone clean, Gardiner residents are trying to help their neighbors — National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service employees — while they are on unpaid furloughs. As the federal government shutdown dragged through its third week, more workers were missing paychecks. Yellowstone and other national parks have been ordered to stay open without most of their winter staff.

At the Gardiner Market, the only grocery store in this town of about 900 people, co-owners Scott and Rebecca Demaree offered to open lines of credit for furloughed workers. A couple of people had taken Rebecca Demaree up on that offer by midweek, she told The Gazette.

“We didn’t want people to go without food,” she said.

Richard Parks, owner of Park’s Fly Shop along the Yellowstone River in Gardiner, said his cross-country ski business has been about normal even with the partial government shutdown.

The volume of visitors in December and January typically is less than 10 percent of the crowds seen in summer months — about 60,000 vehicles enter the north gate in July, compared to about 5,100 in December.

Throughout winter tourism peak — the two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s Eve — the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce stayed busy answering inquiries about the federal shutdown, said Executive Director Loren Barrett.

“We’re still open,” Barrett told callers.

Gardiner is the only entrance that visitors can drive wheeled vehicles through in winter. The National Park Service is responsible for maintaining the road to Cooke City, which is the only wheeled vehicle route into that town in winter.

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Since the shutdown started on Dec. 21, the park’s major concessionaire, Xanterra has funded plowing of the road to Cooke City as well as some maintenance on the over snow routes to Old Faithful.

Tanner hopes to get a cleanup crew together one day a week until the federal shutdown ends. After last weekend’s big turnout, he has received many messages from people who want to help.

“I have a feeling I’m going to have too many people,” he joked.

While Congress and the White House are at a stalemate, people in Montana are uniting to do what must be done to care for Yellowstone and their neighbors. This sorry state of federal governance has one upside: It is bringing out the best in people who truly love America’s first national park.

If you go to Yellowstone before staffing and operations are back to winter normal, plan on packing out all your trash. If you see volunteers cleaning, tell them thanks for taking care of Yellowstone

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