Fall sunrise over the Yellowstone River

TBD: Coronavirus Impacts on Yellowstone

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending against gatherings of more than 50 for the next eight weeks, it remains to be seen if there are any changes due to coronavirus impacts on Yellowstone.

Yes, Yellowstone National Park is a large, large area where it’s easy to spend hours or even days without interacting with another human being. And yes, it’s highly likely tourism will be down in Yellowstone because of an expected cutback in foreign visitors, which could last throughout most or all of the summer season. But there will surely be some changes coming down the pike if you plan on visiting Yellowstone.

There’s no reason to anticipate any coronavirus impacts on Yellowstone to the point where the national park is closed. But there are areas where that 50-personal threshold invoked by the CDC could be in play, mostly in the Old Faithful area when it comes to dining and geyser eruptions. You may not see a crammed Old Faithful Dining Room when the summer season opens there May 8, or in any of the other larger dining rooms.

And there’s another factor to consider: the health of National Park Service and concessionaire employees. Though lower visitation rates are inevitable, we’re still talking about a lot of people. In May 2019, Yellowstone National Park hosted 434,385 visits, making it the third busiest on record. This was a 2.8 percent decrease from 2018 (446,875 visits), which was the busiest May on record. A 20 percent or 30 percent decrease would still mean over 286,000 visits on record. That means a lot of exposure for works at the visitor gates, the visitor centers and Yellowstone concessions.

Speaking of Yellowstone concessionaires: Xanterra and Delaware North rely heavily on foreign workers. The coronavirus-inspired travel bans may make bringing in foreign workers much more challenging.

Right now the National Park Service seems to be focusing on short-term concerns, with some temporary closures and modifications in place, including the closure of urban national parks like the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz Island. But as we approach the first road and concession openings on April 17, you can bet we’ll see plenty of debate as what should be open and closed in Yellowstone.

Photo of fall sunrise over the Yellowstone River by Jacob W. Frank, courtesy National Park Service.

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