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Don’t Look Now, But Yellowstone National Park Opens Friday

Despite the snow and cold rain coming down on much of the United States, there’s a faint glimmer of summer as Yellowstone National Park opens for 2014 this Friday — and it’s free over the weekend.

It’s a limited opening, to be sure. The last few weeks have seen Park access limited to bicyclists between West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs, as well as the year-round road between the North Entrance and Cooke City. (Concessionaires have been busy as well: for instance, workers have been installing new desks and chairs to cabins at Old Faithful Lodge.) On Friday, at 8 a.m., the road segments from West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs to Canyon and Old Faithful will be open as well. Park entrance fees will be waived April 19 and 20 to kick off National Park Week. A seven-day pass to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is normally $25 for a private, non-commercial vehicle.

Each spring, Yellowstone National Park plow crews clear snow and ice from 198 miles of main road, 124 miles of secondary roads and 125 acres of parking lots inside the park as well as 31 miles of the Beartooth Highway outside the park’s Northeast Entrance to prepare for the summer season.

You can view a list of all Yellowstone 2014 openings here (be warned there will be a limited amount of services offered within the Park), but a quick summary of what you can expect when Yellowstone National Park opens for 2014 follows. The East Entrance is scheduled to open to travel on Friday, May 2.  The park’s South Entrance is set to open to the public on Friday, May 9. The highway east of Cooke City to WY-296 typically opens by mid-May. Crews from the National Park Service and the Montana Department of Transportation strive to open US-212 over the Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge, Mont., in time for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Visitors should be aware that spring in Yellowstone is very unpredictable and often brings cold temperatures, high winds and falling snow.  ven cleared sections of roads can be narrow and covered with a layer of snow, ice and debris.  Visitors should use extreme caution when driving as road clearing operations can be ongoing at any time throughout the park.  In the case of extreme weather conditions, temporary road closures are also possible with little or no advance warning.

Due to the snow present in the park’s interior, walking on trails or on boardwalks through thermal areas may also be difficult or impossible for some time. Bears have emerged from hibernation in the Greater Yellowstone Area and are on the hunt for food. If you plan to hike, ski or snowshoe in the park you are advised to stay in groups of three of more, make noise on the trail and carry bear spray.  Yellowstone regulations require visitors to stay 100 yards from black and grizzly bears at all times.  The best defense is to stay a safe distance from bears and use binoculars, a telescope or telephoto lens to get a closer look.

If you do head to the Park over the weekend, consider celebrating Earth Day with fellow Yellowstone fans. Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone Environmental Coordinating Committee (YECC) and community partners in and around Gardiner, Montana, will celebrate the 44th anniversary of Earth Day starting April 19, with community cleanups, waste collection and recycling events, demonstrations, games, information on local and national environmental initiatives and much more.

Here’s a look at the activities.

Saturday, April 19 at Arch Park and the Yellowstone Association:

  • 9 a.m.-4 p.m.: “Trash Amnesty Day” at the Gardiner Green Boxes. (Call 406-223-2135 for details.)
  • 9 a.m.-Noon: Drop donations at Community Closet truck located at the Yellowstone Association.
  • 10 a.m.-noon: Community Clean-up Opportunities and E-waste collection at Arch Park.
  • Noon: Free community BBQ at Arch Park.
  • 1-2:30 p.m.: Eco-themed educational opportunities at the Yellowstone Association, including recycled crafts, puppet show, story time and face painting, Master Gardener information and demonstration, compost giveaway (bring your own bucket or bag) and a bear-proof trash can giveaway.

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of the Interior.

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