Jackson Hole, WY News

Workers dig out

Grand Teton National Park employees uncovered their vehicle fleet from a month’s worth of snowfall Monday, for many the first day back at work after a 35-day shutdown. It may take agencies a while to get back up to speed.

Words cannot express what an honor it is to wake up every day and serve the American people by managing and sustaining our national heritage — our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.

For the past several years the three of us have shared this distinct honor and privilege with our staffs in a truly special area of the country. We’ve been privileged to work on complex issues from management of the Jackson Elk Herd to managing large wildfires to addressing the challenges that accompany ever-increasing visitation. Those issues have not always been easy, and we haven’t always agreed with our stakeholders, but through it all we’ve been grateful to work with an engaged community that truly values its public lands.

Over the past five weeks, however, we began to truly appreciate what a warm and supportive community we have to call home.

The extended government shutdown, which finally came to an end over the weekend, posed a number of challenges for members of our workforce and their families. The pride we usually feel when we put on our uniforms and go to work was replaced by anxiety and uncertainty as many stayed at home.

That stress and anxiety of not seeing a paycheck for over a month was felt acutely by members of our workforce. Some of them were furloughed while others continued to work to protect life, safety and property, but nonetheless all went without pay. We shouldered the burden of knowing critical work was on hold and would have ramifications for the American public and our resources.

On behalf of our staffs and the entire federal land management community we want to offer a profound thank you to all the area businesses, nongovernmental organizations, local governments and private individuals that embraced and supported us through this challenging time.

Through your kindness and generosity our employees were able to stay active and maintain their overall wellness through activities like free skiing at Snow King, yoga at Inversion, indoor cycling at Revolution and volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.

Likewise, free Moose Hockey games, admission to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, haircuts at Teton Barber Shop and discounted meals at Local and Haagen-Dazs ensured our employees had diversions, entertainment and stress management opportunities.

We are especially grateful for the important financial assistance provided by St. John’s Episcopal Church, One 22, Meridian Trust and First Interstate Bank. These organizations extended a helping hand to those who were struggling to make financial ends meet.

We want to express our deep appreciation to organizations that ensured those who were hit hardest by the shutdown had food on the table: the Jackson Cupboard, the Rocky Mountain Food Bank, Hole Food Rescue, Jackson Whole Grocer, the Good Samaritan Mission, Our Lady of the Mountains Church and the town of Jackson and Teton County, which are providing lunch to our staff today.

There are many more that we could add to this list. We thank those of you we may have missed. There are also countless individuals who reached out to our colleagues with offers and words of support. While we were not always able to accept those kind offers due to ethics guidelines, we always appreciated the thought more than you’ll ever know.

As we get back to our important work protecting your public lands, please have patience with us as we resume normal operations and begin addressing the backlog of work. After the lengthy shutdown that will be no small effort.

Please know that we are working with hearts full of gratitude and the knowledge that our friends, neighbors, local businesses and elected officials make up the most warm, caring and supportive community we could ask for. It is a true honor and privilege to serve you and our nation’s public lands. Thank you.

David Vela is superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. Tricia O’Connor is supervisor of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Brian Glaspell is manager of the National Elk Refuge. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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