Mar 21, 2014 The Associated Press

Little change in winter park tourism

JACKSON -- The number of tourists who visited Yellowstone and Grand Teton this past winter was comparable to the number of visitors the winter before.

Grand Teton recorded almost 121,400 tourist visits during December, January and February, up slightly from some 120,900 over the same period the year before.

Yellowstone tourist visits fell from about 74,200 last winter to 72,400 this winter.

Winter visitation to Yellowstone has fallen off significantly from more than a decade ago, when the park typically would see more than 100,000 wintertime visitors.

Spring plowing has begun in Yellowstone and is set to begin in Grand Teton next week.

USAF sergeant gets 25-year sentence

CHEYENNE -- An Air Force sergeant faces 25 years in military prison after pleading guilty to charges he sexually molested girls in Germany and the United States.

Officials at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne and Ramstein Air Base in Germany announced Thursday that a military judge sentenced Tech. Sgt. Michael L. Merritt earlier this week in Wyoming.

Merritt pleaded guilty to military charges including sexual assault and kidnapping. His guilty pleas cover crimes against four girls, ages 5 to 14, from 2003 through 2013.

A release from Ramstein Air Base in Germany states military investigators identified Merritt as the perpetrator in the abduction and molestation of the children there after analyzing forensic evidence on clothing.

Lt. Gen. Tom Jones, vice commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, issued a statement saying the Air Force is grateful that the affected families finally have closure.

"This predator caused a lot of pain and suffering in our community, and we hope this conviction provides healing and a sense of security for all those affected," Jones said.

Capt. Eydie Sakura, Air Force spokeswoman at F.E. Warren, said Thursday that Merritt transferred to the nuclear missile base on the outskirts of Wyoming's capital city last August and was arrested in October. He was assigned to the 319th Missile Squadron.

Old Hoback bridge demolished

JACKSON -- A dramatic explosion brought down two steel arches that used to support a bridge over the Snake River south of Jackson.

The controlled detonation happened at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Crews then set about removing the debris that fell into the river -- work that might continue into next week.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation already has built a new bridge to replace the old bridge demolished at Hoback Junction.

The new bridge was built just yards away from the old bridge. WyDOT engineer Bob Hammond it looks like the demolition crew avoided damaging the new bridge.

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