Sholly: Dry run for Yellowstone last weekend went smoothly

JACKSON, Wyo. — Numbers at the Yellowstone gates were off slightly from usual but, still, an impressive number of visitors enjoyed the park through two of the five entrances.

Two (east and south) of five entrances opened on Monday, May 18, following Phase 1 of the park’s reopening plan.

Visitation 

Visitation through the first three days of operations was 90% of normal through the East Entrance (near Cody, Wyo.) and approximately 60% of normal through the South Entrance (near Jackson, Wyo.). Vehicle counts per day are broken down below. The park expects traffic and visitation levels to grow over the Memorial Day Weekend.

Last year, with all five entrances open on these same dates, there were 5,022 cars in the park on May 18, 4,880 cars in the park on May 19, and 4,723 cars on May 20. It is estimated over the past three days, there is less than 20% of the normal traffic volume in the park compared to when all five entrances are open at this time of year.

General Park Observations

Overall, the Old Faithful boardwalk was one of the busiest sections of the park in the first three days of operations. A mix of compliance and non-compliance with social distancing was observed by park staff. Most families and groups traveling together were not socially distanced, as would be expected.

Clear separation between these groups was observed in many cases, but not all. Masks are not required but are highly recommended in the park especially when social distancing is not possible. Park staff observed limited use of masks in outdoor areas.

Clear separation between these groups was observed in many cases, but not all. Masks are not required but are highly recommended in the park especially when social distancing is not possible. Park staff observed limited use of masks in outdoor areas. Photo: NPS // Jacob W. Frank

Park Mitigation Actions 

The number one priority of the Park Service is to keep its employees safe by implementing creative mitigation measures and following CDC guidance.

The park has spent approximately $136,000 on COVID-19 mitigation over the past weeks: nearly $30k for personal protective equipment (PPE) (N-95 masks, Tyvek suits, face shields, regular masks, and gloves); nearly $50k for new electrostatic disinfectant sprayers to more effectively and expeditiously clean restrooms and facilities; $20k for facial coverings and thermometers; $16k for visitor center and entrance station mitigation (plexiglass shields, stanchions, other); and nearly $20k for signage.

The park has another $40k pending in backordered charges for additional PPE and mitigation equipment.

Montana Entrances

The park is working closely with the Governor of Montana to set an opening date for the Montana entrances (west, north, and northeast). The governor has announced an intent to lift out-of-state travel restrictions on June 1. The park and state will announce a target date for opening Montana entrances soon.

Statement from Superintendent Cam Sholly

Overall, the first three days of operations have gone smoothly, especially with the very reduced amount of visitation in the park. I expect these numbers to go up significantly in the next few weeks,” Sholly said.

Regarding masks and measures in place for the safety of visitors, Sholly said, “We have put substantial mitigation in place and our measures will continue evolving daily. However, to visitors intending to visit Yellowstone: If you are not comfortable being in places where other visitors are not wearing masks, I suggest one of two things: 1) plan your visit for another time and don’t come to the park now; or 2) don’t put yourselves in situations where you’re around visitors who are not following health recommendations.”

Unified plan

The decision to reopen Yellowstone is not and has not been a unilateral decision, according to Sholly. Decisions are being made in close concert with state and local partners, including health officials, and with support from the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

“We have implemented a reopening plan that is limited in nature. It gives us time to observe and make adjustments, expand operations if conditions are favorable, and contract them if they are not,” Sholly said. “We welcome realistic feedback on how we can continue improving our reopening strategy while working together to maintain the safety for our employees and visitors. Keeping Yellowstone closed is not a viable strategy.”

Overall, the Old Faithful boardwalk was one of the busiest sections of the park in the first three days of operations. A mix of compliance and non-compliance with social distancing was observed by park staff. Photo: NPS // Jacob W. Frank
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