To say 2013 was a big year here in Yellowstone National Park would be an understatement. For lots of reasons – here are 10 of them – I’m going to remember 2013 for a very long time.
1. Lake Yellowstone Hotel completed the first part of a huge renovation. Now in its 123rd year, the hotel has received a bottom-up facelift, the first of a $10 million two-year renovation. This is a much-loved hotel, and it has played a huge part in Yellowstone’s history. And many generations to come will be able to experience it thanks to this preservation project.
2. I was reminded we have terrific partners. The government sequestration last spring nearly caused a late opening because of the cost of plowing the roads, but partners like the gateway communities of Cody and Jackson, who’s citizens and businesses pulled together to help fund the on-time plowing.
3. My deep respect for our employees in the park became even stronger as I watched employees handle the orderly but early exodus from the park, related to the government shutdown. Some press reports missed the truth by a mile. In fact, our seasonal workers in particular were diligent in ensuring guests’ comfort and assisting with exit logistics, with only 48 hours notice and with the knowledge that their seasonal jobs would be coming to an end sooner than they expected.
4. I started eating more veggies, and I lived to tell about it. It’s an easy thing to do when you work for Xanterra. In all of the restaurants as well as the employee dining rooms, Xanterra serves an abundance of fresh food, and there are always plenty of healthy options.
5. Xanterra celebrated the National Park Service’s decision to award us the concession contract in Yellowstone for another 20 years. Xanterra has a long history in this park – our predecessor TW Recreational Services began operating concessions here in 1979. And we are going to invest $135 million in park improvements in coming years. Stay tuned.
6. We welcomed our 15,000th Lodging & Learning participant. These multi-day vacation packages that we put together with our long-time and valued partner Yellowstone Association Institute are built around a topical theme like human history, wildlife, hiking or skiing.
7. We started a new winter-season shuttle service from the airport in Bozeman, Mont. to the park. The shuttle was a huge guest-pleaser. Lots of winter visitors fly into Bozeman-Yellowstone Airport, and rent cars to get here. Then the cars would sit unused for days, while these guests explored the park on over-snow vehicles. The new shuttle is convenient and a money saver.
8. I did a lot of my holiday shopping in the park. Xanterra gift stores are dedicated to offering as many items as possible that are made in the United States. This is extremely important to most of the people on my gift list. It is for me too!
9. For once, I was happy to see a fire burning in the park. As part of the new contract, we are investing $70 million to develop new lodges and infrastructure in Canyon Village. As part of that project we are eliminating some old cabins. Instead of just tearing them down, some of them are being used to train firefighters, as was done with a few cabins last fall.
10. We welcomed a new partner to Xanterra’s group of Western national park operations – Glacier National Park Lodges. I was especially excited to see that Glacier, like Yellowstone, offers excursions in historic touring vehicles. Ours are yellow and in Glacier they are red. These historic buses were built by the White Motor Company and introduced to both parks in the 1930s.