After an April Yellowstone opening was delayed by coronavirus precautions, it’s clear that a potential late May opening will be limited at best, with few services offered and concessionaire Xanterra delaying operations until June 15.
Yesterday we saw two developments that put the opening in some perspective but did not provide total clarity. First, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly held a conference call Tuesday with Montana stakeholders and said that opening Yellowstone for the summer would depend on a variety of factors and agreement from local and state health officials. Yellowstone’s season staff has been trimmed by half (not for financial reasons, but for workers to avoid shared accommodations), and many seasonal employees may not be asked to return—upwards of 200 to 300. Work for a Yellowstone opening, such as road plowing, is still going on, including plowing work on the Montana side of the Beartooth Highway, which traditionally opens Memorial Day weekend. That deadline is still reportedly under consideration by National Park Service officials. Still, to be clear, there is no firm deadline under consideration at this time; a Memorial Day opening is far from a done deal.
But not from concessionaire Xanterra Travel Collection, which announced yesterday that it did not expect to resume seasonal operations in national parks, including Yellowstone, until June 15. Xanterra originally suspended all public national parks operations, including Yellowstone lodges and dining, through May 21 in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The June 15 date is tentative, according to a note from Xanterra President and CEO Andrew Todd, and will likely involve limited openings at first. Right now demand at Yellowstone lodges is strong at the end of the season, but with little firm data about an early-summer opening, it’s clear any plans for late June and early July should be tentative at best.
And what will be available to visitors once Yellowstone opens? On the call, Sholly said he estimates a gradual opening. Not every visitor facility will open at once; hotels and restaurants will likely open later in the season on a staggered basis. Campgrounds may be reconfigured to allow more space between visitors. Tour buses may also be barred at the beginning of the season, but there are no plans to limit overall daily access to Yellowstone or require daily visitation registration at this time.
The issue: No one knows the condition of the rest of the world when it comes to late May and June. Right now Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are under 14-day quarantine orders for out-of-state visitors, but they are likely to expire well before a Yellowstone opening; Montana’s order expires on April 24, for example, while Wyoming’s expires April 30. The travel industry is basically frozen with various stay-at-home orders in place across the nation, and any planning must be undertaken one day at a time.
Photo of Electric Peak courtesy National Park Service.
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