- Posted October 15, 2013 by
Yellowstone Communities Protest for the Park, Government Accountability
An icy wind and wet snow that kept up throughout the day were not enough to deter residents in the small southern Montana town of Gardiner from gathering on Sunday October 13 to share with the US Congress how their government shutdown has affected our town. Nor was the possibility of rain and a 2+ hour round trip drive enough to deter our neighbors in Cody, WY from doing the same.
Spurred by Cody residents Rick Satterthwaite and Eva Linton when they had to explain to their young children why they could not visit Yellowstone, the Protest FOR Yellowstone event and associated Facebook page were created on October 7 and quickly grew to more than 700 members. Just 6 days after it's inception, more than 100 people gathered at the East Entrance and about 20 at the North Entrance at 3pm Sunday afternoon to make their voices heard. The message began as a request for the the people's park to be reopened – while that is still an integral party,, it has also evolved into a message about their take on the overall management of our government and country.
“We were a small group in the wilderness, just in front of the gates of Yellowstone National Park. What brought us there was the desire to gain access to our friend, our park. However, what became obvious as We The People began to look around was much greater than Yellowstone; if one could imagine that. No, what was obvious was our weariness over you and your inability to lead on behalf of us” shared organizer Rick Satterthwaite in a letter penned to the elected officials of the Senate and House, and delivered to Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi. And it was clear to all who participated, both in person or in spirit from across the nation via the Protest FOR Yellowstone Facebook page, that his sentiments ring true for Americans near and far.
Both Cody and Gardiner are gateway towns to Yellowstone National Park; Gardiner at the North Entrance, Cody to the East. As the closest towns to their respective entrances, both are home to a large number of residents who choose to live there based on the proximity to the world's first National Park and rely on tourism to that park as their main source of economy. A bulk of the annual revenues for many businesses in Cody and most in Gardiner are earned in the months of May-October – at least until October 1, 2013. When the now 15 day old partial government shutdown forced guests out of Yellowstone, it also essentially forced guests from the gateway communities and prevented local residents from enjoying their backyard. These towns may be small, but they are vital to the millions of guests who pass through while visiting the park, and these guests are equally vital the survival of these communities.
“We should have closed the day the shutdown happened. We probably lost 90% of our business” said Alex Roberts, who manages the Raven Grill in Gardiner and described Gardiner as “a ghost town”. Other business owners in town reported losses of 40-60% in just the first week of the shutdown, and the combined revenue losses for the town's businesses has reached easily into six figures as Gardiner sees the number of visitors coming through the town drop from over 37,000 in October 2012 to nearly nothing in the same month of 2013.
The economic hits are only one side of the story though, as tens of thousands of visitors have seen long planned, and in many cases very expensive, vacations put on hold when their destinations were closed off with virtually no notice. Once such family from New Hampshire traveled to Gardiner from Bozeman to participate in the protest on the insistence of their 10 year old daughter, Jenna Hanson. Jenna jumped at the chance to tell a KBZK Bozeman reporter exactly what she thought of the shutdown and how disappointed she was for the people who saw “a trip of a lifetime” brought to a halt.
For as long as the shutdown lasts and continues to affect the lives of Americans, the citizens of Gardiner and Cody don't plan to take it. Future protests are already being discussed, including one the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne. And when all is said and done, Satterthwaite would like to extend an invitation to Washington:
“Do your jobs and fund the government. Do what you have to do to get past this latest crisis. Then shut it down again! Shut down every office, every hall, and every meeting room and come to Yellowstone. Come to the farmland of the Midwest. Come to the sprawling cities of the eastern seaboard. Come to the oil patches of the west and southwest. Come to the great forests of the Pacific North West. Come to We The People and just sit with us.
But do not go to your own districts, your own constituencies. Go where you are not familiar and sit with someone you have never sat with. Don’t take cameras and media people, just put on your jeans and come alone. How can you lead all of We The People if you have only sat with half of We The People? Imagine that! None of you 537 being lobbied, arguing your point, pitting half of us against the other half. Just take the fall and early winter off to sit with We The People and get to know us. The reconvene after the holidays and lead us together in the right way; the American way. What do you say? Meet us at the gates of Yellowstone and let us just sit together as We The People.”
To read Rick's entire letter to Washington and learn more about the event, find them on Facebook at “Protest FOR Yellowstone” or at http://protestforyellowstone.blogspot.com/2013/10/dear-washingtona-letter-to-all-elected.html
Photos by Kat Brekken