Two more developed areas that house and feed many of Grand Teton National Park’s millions of visitors will reduce lodging and restaurant offerings this summer because of a slashed seasonal workforce.
Forever Resorts, which contracts with the National Park Service to operate the Signal Mountain Lodge and Leeks Marina areas, will open less than half of its normal guest units.
The Trappers Grill and Peaks Restaurant, at Signal, and Leek’s Pizzeria will remain shuttered for the year, but marinas, limited lodging and some other offerings at both locations will gear up June 5.
“Currently we are planning on opening with 34 of our 79 lodging units available,” Signal Mountain Lodge general manager Jason Ryan said in an email. “All open units include kitchenettes. Daily housekeeping service will not be provided — it will only take place between visitors.”
The Yellowstone and Grand Teton experience will be different this summer, due partly to a temporary Park Service policy requiring each employee to be provided with his or her own bedroom and bathroom. That COVID-19 precaution greatly reduced the capacity of dormitory- and apartment-style housing that concessionaires and the Park Service rely on to house seasonal staffers.
For similar reasons, employee-intensive operations like hotels are being kept closed.
Yellowstone National Park expects a 60% reduction of its seasonal workforce, with approximately 200 summer staffers instead of 500. Its main lodging concessionaire, Xanterra, will bring on 80% fewer employees — about 800 staff, instead of 3,500 — and as a result is largely keeping closed its guest lodging except for cabins with their own bathrooms.
Grand Teton Lodge Company has declined to release equivalent numbers, but it announced last week that it would not open Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake lodges this summer, partly because of staffing.
Other Lodge Company facilities, starting with the Colter Bay convenience store and Gros Ventre Campground, are tentatively scheduled to open in the second half of May.
Signal Mountain Lodge’s usual 180-person seasonal workforce will be whittled down to about 70, Ryan said. Those temporary workers will run Signal’s general store, the gift shop, campgrounds at Leeks and Signal, and the marinas, where canoes and kayaks will still be rented.
It’s still unknown when the parks themselves will reopen to the public.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone closed all entry gates and barred recreation within their boundaries five weeks ago. Both parks have remained tight-lipped about targeted reopening dates.
Reached Monday, the public affairs officers for each park had no updates about the reopening plans.
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton acting superintendent Gopaul Noojibail have both said that the parks will reopen in consultation and coordination with gateway communities, concessionaires and health experts, and that the rebooting process will be gradual and phased.
Northwest Wyoming’s two parks are not in lockstep in all of their COVID-19 responses. Tour buses, for example, will be banned from entry to Yellowstone, at least in the early summer.
“We will work with the industry to better understand what their COVID-19 mitigation plans look like and when the timing might be appropriate to resume large tour operations,” Sholly said in an emailed statement. “The county health officers I’ve talked to have articulated great concern with allowing these types of tours to resume with any type of limited opening.”
Grand Teton National Park is taking a different approach, though it remains to be seen when the tour bus market will return, driven as it is by international travelers and elderly U.S. residents.
“We have no intention of limiting tour buses,” Grand Teton spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
Decisions about some other national park offerings have been put off for now.
The Signal Mountain Lodge marina won’t be renting motorboats this summer, but its management is still considering whether to offer guided lake fishing or scenic float trips.
As of last week, Grand Teton Lodge Company was still weighing plans for the Jenny Lake Campground, Jenny Lake Store and some marina services at Colter Bay.
Jenny Lake Boating, which operates the shuttle across its eponymous lake, is also in a holding pattern and awaiting Park Service guidance, owner Doug Colonel said. It remains to be seen if its vessels will hit the still-frozen water this year, though the company is still preparing to run boats — and taking steps in the event they are able to.
“We are doing what we typically would be doing this time of year, getting ready to open and going through our preparations,” Colonel said.
Unlike the larger concessionaires, Jenny Lake Boating is not as constrained by staffing, since its workforce mostly consists of locals. If the shuttles do run, it will “certainly be” at a reduced capacity, Colonel said, to achieve 6-foot social distancing guidelines.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said, “if we open.”