SHERIDAN — The board of directors of the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce is expected to consider this week whether to contribute money to an effort aimed at offsetting federal budget cuts that stand to threaten tourism in Wyoming.
An initiative headed up by the Cody Chamber of Commerce and supported by several statewide organizations is looking to raise funds to plow the east and northeast entrances to Yellowstone National Park, thereby allowing the park to open on schedule.
The effort was born following an announcement that budget cuts had pushed back the opening of the park’s east entrance, among others, from May 3 to May 17.
The fundraising drive by the Cody group has already won the support of Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk and Gov. Matt Mead who recently authorized the use of state workers and plow equipment, provided fundraising organizers are able to pay.
With plowing costs averaging about $4,400 per mile, the Cody Chamber hopes to raise $100,000 by April 1. The group plans to match donations dollar for dollar up to $50,000.
As of Monday, the organization had raised a total of about $54,000, including their matching contribution, since the drive began last week.
Organizers have made the case that the entire state stands to suffer if visitors are deterred from traveling to Yellowstone.
“When most people come (to Yellowstone) from outside the area, they travel through a large part of Wyoming,” said Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Chamber of Commerce. “This isn’t just a Cody problem.”
Balyo said many Wyoming communities, including Sheridan, stand to take a financial hit if visitors are kept at bay for any additional period of time.
Local tourism and business leaders agree, even if their role in the fundraising push is still unclear.
“It’s all about economics,” Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dixie Johnson said. “It’s all about getting more people to our communities.”
Given its location along Interstate 90, Sheridan’s summer tourism season depends heavily on luring tourists headed for the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
While the local chamber of commerce has yet to decide whether it will contribute money to Cody’s effort, Johnson lauded the group’s project as important for Sheridan and the entire state.
“We’re one of the premier routes to Yellowstone,” she said. “Especially in the summertime, tourism is a huge part of (local) businesses, so we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to support them.”
Shawn Buckley, executive director of the nonprofit Sheridan Travel and Tourism, said he was also unsure of whether his organization would be donating to the cause. In recent weeks, STT officials have been working to refine their marketing strategy in an effort to better attract visitors to Sheridan County.
Balyo emphasized that the fundraising drive will not become an annual initiative.
Instead, he views the effort as a one-time fix for a problem that was handed to Wyoming by the federal government.
Still, he’s hopeful organizers are on track to meet their goal and ensure Yellowstone is open for business as quickly as possible.
“I’m pretty confident we’re going to make it based on the response we’ve had so far,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty broad base of support.”