Cody-area business leaders expressed concerns to Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk over the proposed roadwork project around Fishing Bridge.
A few weeks ago, we reported the park was soliciting public comment on a proposal to revamp 3.2 miles of road between Fishing Bridge and Indian Pond. Potentially, the project could replace Fishing Bridge altogether with a new structure.
Comment on the project open through May 26, 2017.
According to the Powell Tribune, residents and business leaders broached their concerns to Wenk at a meeting with the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce; Wenk was brief in his comments:
In Wenk’s speech at the luncheon, he spent less than a minute talking about closures that may happen in 2018.
“It is our preferred alternative not to have closures until after Oct. 15 (of 2018),” said Wenk, who has been in charge of the park since 2011. “We want the closings as late as possible to have the least impact on area businesses.”
Tina Hoebelheinrich, executive director of the chamber, hopes to turn congestion at the South and West entrances into a positive for communities near the East Entrance, near Cody.
“We have a tremendous opportunity here due to congestion at the other gates,” she said. “The East Gate is a great option to avoid the lines.”
But road closures could turn visitors away. And the closing of Fishing Bridge essentially closes the gateway to the rest of the park from the East Entrance.
Two options were mentioned as alternatives to costly closings.
[Chamber president Mark] Westerling tried to convince Wenk during the business meeting that using night closures as an option could solve some of the problem.
“Delays are part of construction and maintenance is needed. But long closures would be listed by sites that visitors use and would push them away from the East Entrance,” Westering said.
Wenk didn’t mention night closings as an option during his speech.
During a question and answer period, Wenk was asked about public transportation possibilities.
“We need to take baby steps,” Wenk said.
The use of buses or even a train was mentioned by an audience member.
“We get 50,000 visitors in the winter, but we get 50,000 visitors every two days in the summer,” Wenk said. “How much would it cost? How many buses would we need? What if someone gets stranded?”
Hoebelheinrich points to congestion and flat hiring as issues she’d like to see improved.
“There has been a 21 percent spike in visitors in the last three years, but staffing levels have remained the same,” she said. “But incidents are up even higher percentages. Crowding is causing conflicts between visitors due to traffic and parking problems.”
Wenk emphasized construction projects in Yellowstone are limited by the weather, especially in the fall. This schedule is complicated by the changing pattern of visitation in recent years. “April is the new May and October is the new September,” Wenk told the chamber. Read our recent story on Yellowstone’s overcrowding conundrum here.