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Plowing begins on time for Yellowstone's south entrance

Plowing begins on time for Yellowstone's south entrance

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - Communities in western Wyoming are plowing forward despite budget setbacks.

Across-the-board federal budget cuts were supposed to delay the opening of Yellowstone National Park, but local people showed they were not going to let that happen.

"We're open for business," said Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeff Golightly, as the Wyoming Department of Transportation deployed its fleet of snowplows Monday morning, clearing the way for spring in Yellowstone.

The long winter could have been even longer.

The gates were set to open two weeks later than usual, thanks to federal budget cuts that kicked in last month and plowing the entrance roads.  That would have potentially cost nearby communities, including Jackson Hole, quite a bit of revenue.

"Yellowstone is a big part of the draw for the region," said Jim Waldrop, who manages the Wort Hotel in Jackson.

Waldrop is one of many business leaders who joined the town of Jackson and the local chamber of commerce to raise more than enough money to send state plows in on time.  

"Today is kind of a culmination of a lot of partners getting together and making something happen," Golightly said.

"Being able to say that Yellowstone is open for business is very, very powerful," Waldrop said.

According to Robert Johnston, who has been operating WYDOT snowplows for 36 years, the massive rotary plows are capable of moving up to 240 tons of snow per hour.  

Still, the going will be slow.  State crews will start at Flagg Ranch and head about 16 miles north on the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway to meet up with National Park Service plows inside Yellowstone.  The process will take about two weeks, allowing enough time to start welcoming guests on May 10.

"This has been a real show of teamwork," said Dan Hottle, a spokesman for Yellowstone National Park.  "It's going to be tremendous to open the park on time."

Jackson paid roughly $70,600 to get the plows in motion, but managed to raise more than $73,000.  Golightly said any money left over from the fundraiser will go back to the people who chipped in.

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