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Gateway economies struggle near Yellowstone National Park

As the partial government shutdown ripples through America, it’s not just workers in the public sector feeling the pain.

Businesses near Yellowstone National Park’s west entrance in West Yellowstone, Mont. depend on tourist dollars. They are reporting major drops in visitors since the park closed on Oct. 1.

Making U-turns at Yellowstone’s gate has become one of the most popular tourist activities in West Yellowstone. The government shutdown with no end in sight means no tourists beyond the “Welcome” sign.

“(It was) a 16-hour drive,” said one tourist, taking pictures next to the sign with his wife and friends. “We made the plans last year.”

Kelli Sanders co-owns a shop near the entrance. She said early fall is normally fairly busy.

“September and October are just fantastic times to be here because it’s not as hot, it’s less crowded and there’s more animals around,” Sanders said. “We’re just not seeing the tourists that we usually see in these ‘shoulder months.'”

The West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce knows Sanders isn’t the only struggling business owner.

“Reservations are certainly being cancelled in large numbers,” said Marysue Costello, the chamber’s executive director. “Of course, think of the tourist companies — their business is going into Yellowstone.”

Costello and her colleagues are working to promote everything the city has to offer outside the park.

“Hiking trails, biking trails — all of that remains open,” Costello said. “We have some wonderful tours from West Yellowstone that do not involve Yellowstone National Park.”

Still, tourists and optimism trickle into town.

“There are a lot of people who can’t change their airplane plans,” Sanders said. “So they come out anyway.”

“We’re disappointed the park’s closed, but the community’s been really great,” one tourist said.

“There are some things (to do),” said another tourist. “And if not, we brought some books to read.”

Xanterra, the private company that runs lodging in Yellowstone National Park, is requiring its employees to stay inside the park, according to an employee who approached our news crew. The employee said she and her co-workers can go into West Yellowstone to purchase essential items, but will lose their bonus payments if they leave for an extended period of time. She described the scenario as a nightmare.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said he will not use state money to open Yellowstone National Park.

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