After the first three days of an extremely unusual 2020 Yellowstone opening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Superintendent Cam Sholly shares information on visitation, next steps and more.
Overall, visitation through the first three days of operations was 90 percent of normal through the East Entrance and approximately 60 percent of normal through the South Entrance. The trend line: a big first day on May 18 (undoubtedly due to some pent-up demand) and then declines on May 19 and May 20, with only 702 visitors recorded on May 20, 2020 versus 1,422 visitors recorded on May 20, 2019.
The continued closing of the three Montana gates had a significant impact on visitation, as there was less than 20 percent of the normal traffic volume in the park compared to when all five entrances are open at this time of year.
The park expects traffic and visitation levels to grow over the Memorial Day Weekend.
As you’d expect, the Old Faithful boardwalk was one of the busiest sections of the park in the first three days of operations. A mix of compliance and non-compliance with social distancing was observed by park staff. Most families and groups traveling together were not socially distanced, as would be expected. Clear separation between these groups was observed in many cases, but not all. Masks are not required but are highly recommended in the park especially when social distancing is not possible. Park staff observed limited use of masks in outdoor areas.
The next issue, as we noted earlier today: the opening of the three Montana gates. Gov. Steve Bullock is lifting Montana’s 14-day out-of-state quarantine as of June 1, and there will be pressure from local business owners–particularly those in West Yellowstone and Gardiner–to open as close to that June 1 date as possible.
Here’s a statement issued by Sholly regarding the 2020 Yellowstone opening:
Overall, the first three days of operations have gone smoothly, especially with the very reduced amount of visitation in the park. I expect these numbers to go up significantly in the next few weeks.
We have put substantial mitigation in place and our measures will continue evolving daily. However, to visitors intending to visit Yellowstone: If you are not comfortable being in places where other visitors are not wearing masks, I suggest one of two things: 1) plan your visit for another time and don’t come to the park now; or 2) don’t put yourselves in situations where you’re around visitors who are not following health recommendations.
We expect the public to partner with us to protect each other. While we are taking many actions to mitigate health concerns, including widespread messaging, signage, and direct public interface, the National Park Service in Yellowstone will not be actively telling citizens to spread out and put masks on, especially outdoors. While we recommend it, per CDC guidelines, primarily in areas where social distancing cannot be adhered to, we will not be enforcing the wearing of masks in outdoor areas. Once facilities begin to open, the park will evaluate more rigid guidelines on social distancing and facial coverings indoors.
The decision to reopen Yellowstone is not and has not been a unilateral decision. These decisions are being made in close concert with our state and local partners, including health officials, and with support from the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. We have implemented a reopening plan that is limited in nature. It gives us time to observe and make adjustments, expand operations if conditions are favorable, and contract them if they are not. We welcome realistic feedback on how we can continue improving our reopening strategy while working together to maintain the safety for our employees and visitors. Keeping Yellowstone closed is not a viable strategy.
Here are the facts about what Yellowstone coronavirus mitigation has cost the National Park Service so far. The park has spent approximately $136,000 on COVID-19 mitigation over the past weeks: nearly $30k for personal protective equipment (PPE) (N-95 masks, Tyvek suits, face shields, regular masks, and gloves); nearly $50k for new electrostatic disinfectant sprayers to more effectively and expeditiously clean restrooms and facilities; $20k for facial coverings and thermometers; $16k for visitor center and entrance station mitigation (plexiglass shields, stanchions, other); and nearly $20k for signage. The park has another $40k pending in backordered charges for additional PPE and mitigation equipment.
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