Signal Mountain nachos

The Trapper’s Grill at Signal Mountain Lodge makes a big plate of nachos, pictured, though that hefty appetizer won’t be on the menu in 2020 with the grill staying closed.

News&Guide’s COVID-19 coverage provided free to the community
However, this coverage is not free to produce. Our newsroom is working long hours to provide you the news and information you need during this public health crisis. We rely on our subscribers and advertisers to underwrite our news mission. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing today.

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.”

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(2) comments

Chris Davis

I have been coming to the Jackson hole area for over 25 years for summer vacations. I live in a very rural county in Maryland that has had very few COVID-19 cases. we are planning to come again this summer and are surprised that signal Mountain Lodge and other restaurants and hotels in the park cannot meet their staffing needs with local residents who seem to need jobs right now. Perhaps someone local could explain it?

As someone who lives at the Atlantic Ocean, in a resort area, I understand the hesitancy to welcome travelers from high infection areas. what we have done here is hire local people who are looking for work instead of those from other countries who have traditionally filled restaurant and hospitality jobs. Is that an option in your area?

Engage Staff
Audience Engagement

Hi, Chris. Thanks for your questions. Our permanent population is only about 23,500. With millions of visitors to serve each year, our community typically has more jobs than people, according to a local economist, and that counts seniors, children, and people who already have year-round employment. Another factor is health and safety for workers. In the article linked below, lodge managers explain the difficulties in being able to provide appropriate working conditions for employees during the pandemic, and how that has been a limiting factor in the scale of operations.

I hope you are able to still enjoy your trip or reschedule for another time when operations are back to normal. We all are going to be missing the nachos at Signal Mountain this year. Take care.

https://www.jhnewsandguide.com/news/health/coronavirus/some-grand-teton-national-park-icons-to-stay-shuttered-in-2020/article_7a005a51-958e-5837-921b-c22397d12247.html

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.