Superintendent Dan Wenk predicts record numbers of people will visit Yellowstone National Park over the coming years.
2015 saw nearly 4.1 million people visit Yellowstone, a Park record that’s already been shattered by record visitation throughout 2016. Indeed, approximately 4.2 million people have come to Yellowstone National Park this year—and it’s not even over yet.
Superintendent Wenk, speaking to the Cody Enterprise, believes the Park will continue to be popular, noting that visitation was pulled down somewhat by a hectic fire season in both Yellowstone and neighboring Grand Teton National Park. Nonetheless, visitors were not deterred, and likely won’t be in upcoming years:
Yellowstone, which opened in 1872, was nearly overwhelmed by its own fans in 2015. Everything from roads to bathrooms were overcrowded and there was an outpouring of complaints from the public.
The administration used that information to ramp up staffing for the heart of the 2016 summer and the move paid off.
“We learned a lot from the summer of 2015,” Wenk said. “Adjustments were made and they made some of the congestion better.”
During some of the busiest stretches of 2016, social science survey takers were on the grounds polling visitors on a number of topics.
Various documented illegal behaviors were highly publicized this year, from two men loading a bison calf into a vehicle because they thought it looked cold, gallivanting Canadian tourists leaving footprints at the Grand Prismatic Spring, to a 23-year-old man stepping off a boardwalk to his death at a geyser.
“I was disturbed our messages weren’t getting out,” Wenk said of warning signs about safety. “People actually knew, but they thought the risk was worth taking. We have a lot of behavior in the Park where people risk their lives or the resource. You can’t protect everybody from everything.”
Wenk added that he hopes to balance visitor safety and enjoyment with ecosystem resource protection. Indeed, as a member of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee, he voted against a proposed conservation strategy that could go into effect if grizzly bears living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are delisted from the Endangered Species Act.