$40 Million Anonymous Donation to Yellowstone National Park Bringing Much Needed Housing

An anonymous donor has gifted $40 million to Yellowstone National Park. The much-appreciated donation is earmarked for critical improvements in the park, although the funds are being used for infrastructure changes that just might surprise you.

The donation, made through the National Park Foundation, is destined for a priority improvement project to build staff housing. Conditions of several employee housing units had reached an all-time low, while demand for staff housing was increasing dramatically.

Park management reports that affordable housing is critical to attracting and retaining the park’s workforce. “The quality and quantity of available housing is directly tied to the success of every division, district, operation, and program.” states the Yellowstone 2023 Park Update.

In the past, neighboring towns have been heavily relied upon for securing rental housing for National Park Service employees. However, with rental prices skyrocketing due to Yellowstone’s popularity, those options have become sparse. Property owners in towns around the park face enticing financial incentives to turn long-term housing into lucrative short-term vacation rentals.

Purchasing a property near Yellowstone is even more difficult. Nearby towns like Gardiner in Montana regularly see average home prices over $800,000. Homes near Yellowstone sell for nearly double the average in rural Montana, rivaling those of metropolises like Seattle or Denver.

Living outside the park also means a minimum 45-mile commute, adding to the financial challenges. While the cost of rentals around Yellowstone has nearly doubled in the last six years, wages have not seen the same increases.

Recruiting top candidates into the park for the busy summer season is challenging enough, even without the added struggle of finding affordable housing. The housing crunch is not unique to Yellowstone. Many parks battle the same issues. This is partly due to a multibillion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance – infrastructure repairs that have not been performed as scheduled or as needed due to budget shortfalls and other challenges throughout the National Park Service.

Several of Yellowstone’s workers have found themselves leaving Yellowstone to beat the high cost of housing. Caroline Gold, who worked at Yellowstone in an archaeology position, is one of those former employees. While she initially called her Yellowstone position her “dream job,” the high housing prices eventually pushed her to seek work elsewhere. Gold relocated to another national park where the cost of living is substantially less.

Yellowstone employs around 780 people year-round, including firefighters, carpenters, rangers, archaeologists, facility managers, and custodial staff. With the average salary of year-round employees coming in at under $42,000, finding affordable housing is a key priority.

The number of workers in the park skyrockets during the peak summer season. As many as 3,000 additional summer-seasonal workers fill temporary positions like those at the Yellowstone National Park Lodges. According to sources like Backpacker, keeping employees happy and affordably housed will go a long way toward improving the experience for visitors to the park.

In the case of Yellowstone, park visitation has increased substantially over the years, requiring a significant increase in the parks’ workforce to keep pace.

Funds from the $40 million donation are being allocated to constructing at least 70 new modular housing units for park employees. The increased housing capacity and the resulting rise in employee numbers are anticipated to allow staff to better meet the demands of the park’s annual visitors.

Richard Weninger

Author: Richard Weninger


Richard Weninger is a Freelance writer with an extensive background in broadcast journalism and travel writing. He is a published author of both guidebooks and fiction novels. Richard is also an outspoken advocate for environmental causes and animal rights, with a passion for hiking and exploring

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