Yellowstone National Park has seen record numbers of visitors for the past several years.
As those numbers continue to grow, so does the realization that some areas in Yellowstone simply can't handle any more guests.
Yellowstone National park is 63 miles long, 54 miles wide and home to almost 6,000 bison and more than 700 grizzly bears. We know how many bison and grizzly the park can hold. However, we don't know how many humans Yellowstone can hold.
“The least studied mammal in in Yellowstone National Park is a human and so we have to change that,” said Dan Wenk, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent.
The park saw record numbers following record numbers. Last year 4.2 million visitors came through Yellowstone’s gates, a 22 percent increase over the past several years, and there are no signs of slowing down.
“We're looking at all those things to try to figure out how we best solve the problem of first and foremost protecting Yellowstone National Park and then you know secondarily how we make sure the visitor experience is still a high-quality experience,” said Wenk.
On a Wednesday in early May, it’s still tough to find a place to park in the main lot at the Norris Geyser Basin, imagine what it must be like here in July.
There's a real possibility you come in the heat of the summer you're not going to find a place to park. That means you're not going to be able to experience the features that are unique to the Norris Geyser Basin and then, as Supt. Wenk says - that might mean we've reached capacity for visitors.
“I can guarantee you that we're over capacity at Old Faithful, at Midway Geyser Basin, at Norris Geyser basin, at Mammoth, at Canyon during the peak season,” said Wenk. “During peak time we have more visitors than we can accommodate in a manner that I think they would like to enjoy in the park and we would like for them to enjoy the park.”
The human capacity study continues, but solutions are already being considered: limiting numbers, mass transportation, expanding parking at key areas. Some ideas are not as drastic.
“We look at simple things like making a one way travel around a boardwalk just to increase the capacity,” said Wenk. “You have to look at basically every tool that you have available.”
Yellowstone is not the most popular national park in the U.S. Great Smoky Mountain National park saw more than 11 million visitors last year. Yellowstone is 6th on the list.
If you’re headed to Yellowstone, plan ahead, be patient, and remember - 4.2 million other (and counting) love to enjoy Yellowstone just like you do.