Floods, park closure contribute to decrease in Yellowstone National Park visitors
Clark Corbin, Idaho Capital Sun
WEST YELLOWSTONE, Montana (Idaho Capital Sun) — Historic flooding and park closures have contributed to a 20% decrease in visitors to Yellowstone National Park through the first seven months of 2022.
In June, 536,601 people visited Yellowstone National Park, which represents a 43% decrease from the record 938,845 people who visited during June 2021, according to a press release from Yellowstone National Park. June 2021 was the busiest June on record in terms of visitors, Yellowstone officials said.
Overall, year-to-date park visitation for 2022 was also down compared to 2021. Through the end of June, 1,268,053 people visited Yellowstone National Park, which is a decrease of 20% compared to the corresponding time period from 2021, park officials said.
The decrease in visitation wasn’t a surprise.
Following days of exceptionally heavy rainfall, Yellowstone flooded June 13 and rangers and staff evacuated the park. Park officials refer to the natural disaster as a 500-year flood event. Roads and bridges were overwhelmed, mud and rock slides were set off and major damage to multiple roads were confirmed, according to a Yellowstone National Park travel and entrance advisory that is being distributed to park visitors this month.
Yellowstone National Park remained closed for about a week and half following the floods before three of the park’s entrances reopened to the public, spokeswoman Linda Veress told the Idaho Capital Sun.
Two of the park’s entrances located near areas most severely affected by the flood remain closed to vehicles. As of this article’s publication, Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, and Northeast Entrance at Cooke City, Montana, remain closed to vehicles, although cyclists and pedestrians on foot are allowed. Additionally, public travel in vehicles is restricted north of Mammoth Hot Springs and east of Tower-Roosevelt Junction.
Meanwhile, three other popular park entrances — the West Entrance at West Yellowstone, Montana, the East Entrance near Cody, Wyoming, and the South Entrance located near Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming, — are open for the public and vehicle traffic.
Updated park visitation data through July is expected to be released within the next two weeks, Veress said.
2022 is the 150th anniversary for Yellowstone National Park, which became the world’s first national park on March 1, 1872, after President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. Known for its geothermal features, canyons, waterfalls and diverse wildlife, most of Yellowstone is located in Wyoming, although small sections of the park extend into Idaho and Montana. Yellowstone was established and protected as a national park before Wyoming, Idaho or Montana became states.
Yellowstone officials offer timelines for reopening closed sections of the park
Park officials and contractors are already at work repairing damage from the floods.
Earlier this month, Yellowstone officials released updated timelines showing they hope to reopen the North Entrance and Northeast Entrance to vehicles by mid-October, weather permitting.
“We are working pretty hard to reconnect the roads so that we could have access for regular visitor traffic by Oct. 15,” Veress said.
According to the timelines, park officials hope to open the two-lane Old Gardiner Road as a short term reconnection project to allow the public and vehicles to travel between Mammoth Hot Springs and the North Entrance at Gradiner by Oct. 15. As for long-term solutions, National Park Service officials are working with Federal Highway Administration officials to analyze long-term alternatives to the permanent reconstruction of the primary road between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner.
“This road is closed and not drivable due to several washed out road segments,” Yellowstone National Park officials wrote in their updated timeline.
Yellowstone’s timeline also calls for repairing five damaged sections of the Northeast Entrance Road between Slough Creek and Barronette Meadows in time to have that road open to regular vehicle traffic. National Park Service officials are also working on long-term plans and alternatives for the Northeast Entrance Road as well.
As of this article’s publication, about 93% of roads and 94% of the Yellowstone backcountry is open and accessible, according to park officials.