Then the federal budget battle turned to chaos and the national park shut down.
On Jan. 4, Coe led a protest that included around 75 local residents, many of whom saw the park closure as the latest salvo in what has come to be known as the Clinton administration's War on the West. One protester carried a placard that read: "They can spend $ on wolves - why can't they spend it on us?"
The closure of nearly all the national parks in the country during the federal shutdown was little consolation. The administration, protesters said, had come to view the parks and businesses dependent on them as pawns in the budget standoff.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and others are taking advantage of the shutdown to "slowly choke the life out of the winter tourism business," said Coe. "Babbitt definitely hates the West. This all plays into it." Exhibit A in his argument was Babbitt's apparent snubbing of an attempt by the governors of Wyoming and Montana to reopen Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks just before the busy Christmas weekend. By contrast, Babbitt's Interior Department had earlier approved a similar plan by the governor of Arizona, Babbitt's home state, to reopen Grand Canyon National Park.
Interior spokesman Michael Gauldin said that while Arizona officials had accepted all responsibility for accidents in the reopened Grand Canyon National Park, Wyoming officials did not satisfactorily address the liability question.
"There's no conspiracy here," Gauldin added. "Nobody's out to get the business people who depend on the parks. We want the parks open as much as anyone else, but it's not something we're going to do at any cost."
Either way, closure of the parks during the prime holiday season took a high toll on local businesses. Coe estimates his lost revenues at $70,000. TW Recreational Services Inc., which runs lodges and restaurants in Yellowstone, put its losses at $750,000. Gene Bryan, director of the Wyoming Division of Tourism, figured the total loss to Wyoming businesses at more than $100,000 per day. Just prior to the park closure, the chamber had spent $40,000 promoting winter visits to Cody and Yellowstone.
Besides closing Yellowstone, federal land managers invoked the shutdown to cancel public meetings on managing the boom in winter tourism in the Yellowstone region.
* Michael Milstein
Michael Milstein writes in Cody, Wyoming.