GARDINER - On day 23 of the government shutdown, some hope springs in Yellowstone as the park is beginning to provide some basic services, including manning entrance stations and picking up trash.
There's a chorus of "welcome backs" from concession employees and visitors as National Park Service rangers staff Yellowstone's north entrance station in Gardiner for the first time in more than three weeks.
Rangers aren't allowed to collect entrance fees, but they can hand out maps and ask questions. The most common question: "You gonna get a paycheck?"
While Yellowstone has been open to the public since the government shut down on December 21, basic tasks like picking up trash and grooming roads have been paid for out-of-pocket by local businesses with interests in the park.
Park employees will now be able to remove snow at canyon overlooks, clean bathrooms, collect trash, and provide safety information at entrances. But other services, like visitor centers and the public relations office, remain closed.
Not all park rangers have been allowed to return to work, and it's unclear when the entire park staff will be back on the job.
Yellowstone is drawing from an emergency funding source to bring back employees, though the first national park hasn't received the same brutal treatment some other parks have.
News continues to grow of national parks around the country closing their gates or restricting access, as visitors are confronted with piles of trash, human waste on the side of the road and most recently, the eponymous (and endangered) plants in Joshua Tree National Park being cut down by vandals.
While the shutdown hasn't stopped many visitors from coming to Yellowstone, it has brought communities together. Last week, dozens of Montanans gathered to clean up the park themselves.
"Everybody wants to be here," Chuck Tanner, owner of K-Bar in Gardiner and organizer of the volunteer cleanup events, told Montana Right Now at the time. "But we are here, we just take care of it."
What's now the longest shutdown in American history began after negotiations stalled in D.C. over funding for the border wall between Mexico and the U.S.