YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS STORY AND WILL BE UPDATED AS MORE INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE.
During a conference call on Wednesday morning, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said park officials face difficult directions about reopening the park amid Covid-19 concerns.
Sholly said he’s striving to make the best decisions, but won’t also reverse progress at containing Covid-19.
On Monday, May 18, Wyoming entrances will open with visitation restricted to the lower loop of the park only. The northern part of the park remains closed. Approximately 70 percent of the park’s traffic travels through Montana.
Sholly added during the call officials want to be prepared for heavy travel from Montana and doesn’t think Montana will be far behind Wyoming in opening the northern gates.
Sholly said the park will defer to Governor Bullock on opening the 3 Montana Gates. Park will stay in limited opening mode at that time.
Phase 1 of the plan is for north of Norris, west of Madison closed. No overnight accommodations, trails and boardwalks will be open. No large tour buses allowed.
The park closed 7 weeks ago with consensus from surrounding communities and states, Sholly said. He stated he wished he still had that consensus.
“Pressure is building economically, but people still want to be cautious,” he said, adding that any decision won’t be popular with everyone.
Sholly said he feels zero political pressure to reopen, but does feel economic pressure. The reopening policy will be an evolving document that will change over time, it is cautious and stars conservatively with day use only.
Visitors should expect protective measures, including barriers, sanitation stations, distancing and employee training. The park will meter number of people allowed in facilities, and cleaning measures will be enforced. Expect lots of signage about social distancing and social media messages.
The park plans to hire only 25 percent of seasonal employees so they can live in separate, not shared housing so they can be isolated if they get infected with Covid-19.
The public will be asked to participate in enforcing the preventive measures. People will be asked to bring own face coverings and observe social distancing.
The Grand Teton National Park will follow a similar opening plan to Yellowstone's.
Tour bus operations will depend on conditions, but will not be shut out for the entire summer. Officials will work with local health officers to determine when that will be allowed.
Full details about the opening of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks follows:
Following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and state and local public health authorities, Yellowstone National Park will reopen on a limited basis on May 18. The park has been closed to visitors since March 24, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It was great to welcome Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence to Yellowstone National Park and First Lady Melania Trump to Grand Teton National Park last year. These are incredible places that are special to the American public. I appreciate Superintendent Cam Sholly and Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail for working with Governor Gordon and health officials to make the parks accessible to the public," said Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.
Yellowstone has outlined a three-phased plan [nps.gov] that initially opens the South and East entrances of Wyoming and limits visitor travel to the lower loop of the park. The lower loop allows visitors to access Lake, Canyon, Norris, Old Faithful, West Thumb, and Grant Village.
Wyoming has lifted out-of-state travel restrictions and has requested the state’s entrances open the week of May 18. Montana and Idaho continue to have out-of-state restrictions in place and the park is working closely with these states and counties to open the remaining three entrances as soon as possible.
“I want to thank Yellowstone Superintendent Sholly for his thoughtful communication with all interested parties about the park’s plan for reopening,” Governor Gordon said. “This measured approach will help protect employees, visitors, and neighboring communities. It will also give us useful experience as we look ahead to opening other areas of the park, provide a boost to Wyoming’s tourism industry, and help get America’s economy up and going again.”
This limited opening approach will accomplish three objectives in the short term: 1) allow the park to continue buffering with states that are maintaining restrictions; 2) help the park and internal business partners improve and refine mitigation actions with lighter levels of visitation; and 3) allow for an assessment of how returning visitors affect COVID-19 curves within surrounding Wyoming counties.
The park’s reopening priorities center on protecting employees and the public from transmission risks through a variety of mitigation actions consistent with local, state, and federal guidance. The park will actively monitor changing conditions (in the park and in surrounding counties); and will maintain flexibility to expand, adjust, or contract operations as conditions warrant.
“The park’s goal is to open safely and conservatively, ensure we take the right actions to reduce risks to our employees and visitors, and help local economies begin to recover,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “I appreciate the cooperation we’ve had with our surrounding governors, counties, communities, and health officials in working through these challenging decisions. Our goal is to get the remaining entrances open as quickly and safely as possible.”
The park has developed a range of mitigation actions that include: providing protective barriers where needed, encouraging the use of masks or facial coverings in high-density areas, metering visitor access in certain locations, increasing cleaning frequency of facilities, adding signage on boardwalks and other public spaces, and messaging to visitors through a variety of methods.
What will be open beginning May 18?
- Phase 1 will begin on Monday, May 18 at 12:00 p.m. with the opening of the South and East entrances in the state of Wyoming.
- Visitors will be able to access the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road (see attached map) coming in and out of the South and East entrances only.
- Visitors will be able to access restrooms, self-service gas stations, trails and boardwalks, and other Phase 1 facilities that are prepared to open.
What will remain closed until later phases of the plan?
- The Montana entrances (North, West, and Northeast) will remain closed. The park is consulting with the Governor of Montana to establish reopening dates for the Montana entrances.
- Commercial tour buses will not be allowed in the early phases of opening.
- Overnight accommodations will be unavailable until later in the season.
- Campgrounds, backcountry permits, visitor cabins, additional stores, expanded tours, takeout food service, boating, fishing, and visitor centers will remain closed. These Phase 2 services and/or facilities will open when safe and appropriate mitigation measures are in place. This will happen at different times.
- Hotels, full-service dining, commercial tour buses, and ranger programs will remain closed. These Phase 3 services and/or facilities will reopen when health conditions allow.
Visitors should come prepared and follow all CDC and local health guidance by practicing good hygiene and social distancing. Face coverings are recommended where social distancing is not possible. People who are sick should stay home and not visit the park. The CDC has provided specific guidance on visiting parks and recreational facilities [cdc.gov].
“I’m asking the public to partner with us to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly. “Visitors can protect their family and friends by skipping areas that are too crowded and always maintaining social distance from other people, including rangers. The National Park Service can’t do this alone and will continue to work with all stakeholders to best protect the public and our employees.”
Previously-scheduled road construction [nps.gov] projects will continue this summer. Normal annual bear management area [nps.gov] closures will be in effect. Many areas of the park are still experiencing winter conditions. The park will provide details and updates for operations as they change on http://www.nps.gov/yell [nps.gov] and on the park’s social media channels. Updates about NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus [nps.gov].