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People line up for opening day at Yellowstone National Park

Posted at 1:31 PM, Apr 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-19 17:22:30-04

About 60 cars were lined up to enter Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone a half hour before the scheduled opening time of 8 a.m. on Friday.

At the front of the line was West Yellowstone resident Jeff Peterson. He said he arrived at the gate about 4 a.m. He said entering the park on the first day of the summer season is an annual ritual for him. He said this is the third time he has managed to get to the front of the line.

“I’m looking for wildlife, doing photography. I do a lot of photography, so I enjoy watching the animals and stuff,” said a smiling Peterson.

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In the car next to Peterson was Armando Hernandez of Ketchikan, Alaska. A first-time visitor, he said, “Well hopefully we can see some grizzlies, maybe some wolves. Maybe a moose. I’ve never seen a moose up close, so hopefully we get a chance to see them.”

Not all park roads are open just yet. Right now you can travel from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, up to Norris and over to Canyon. The road is also open from Mammoth to Norris. The road from Mammoth to Cooke City remains open year-round.

But the Lake area, the Hayden Valley, Washburn Mountain, East Entrance, and South Entrance roads remain closed while snowplowing operations continue.

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Once the Hayden Valley opens, there will be a new limitation on park visitors.

A nearly 16,500-acre bear management area is being created. While the Mary Mountain trail will remain open, off-trail travel will not be allowed in this area from July 15 to September 15.

Park Bear Biologist Kerry Gunther said, “Wildlife is using the landscape a little bit differently today.”

He said the park has changed a lot since the original bear management areas were first created in 1982.

He ticked off, “The fires of 1988, warming climate, drier summers.”

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He noted that while the Hayden Valley areas will close, another restricted hiking area along the Firehole River near Old Faithful will re-open to hikers. Kerry says bear use in that area has declined greatly, mostly because bison and elk are not using the area very much anymore, so bears can’t find the number of carcasses there they had grown used to feeding on.

Kerry said all the changing wildlife patterns have a big effect on how people and bears react to each other.

He said, “A disproportionate amount of the bear-inflicted injuries are occurring in Hayden Valley compared to the rest of the park. So, Hayden Valley, it’s about one percent of the park but it’s accounting for about 20 percent of the grizzly bear-inflicted human injuries.”

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He explained why limiting human use to just one trail in the Hayden is the safe choice.

“Because that makes visitor activity predictable to bears, and bears are less, less likely to react defensively to encounters when humans are in predictable areas,” said Gunther.

If you’re hiking in the park, there are steps you can take to stay safe around bears.

Gunther said, “Most of our injuries are solo hikers traveling off-trail and not carrying bear spray.”

According to Kerry, the best way to see bears in the spring is to just drive around. He recommends the Tower area, the Hayden Valley, the East Entrance road near Lake Butte, and the Lamar Valley.