With Gov. Steve Bullock lifting Montana’s 14-day out-of-state quarantine as of June 1, as well as other coronavirus-caused closings, the next step will be the potential opening of the three Yellowstone Montana gates, but work needs to be done before a full summer 2020 opening.
By most accounts the limited opening of Yellowstone through the South and East gates has been a success, with polite social distancing observed by the readers sending in reports via email. With no services open (Old Faithful Snow Lodge’s Geyser Grill and Bear Den Gift Shop are set to open tomorrow, with a few more services set to open May 29), park visitation is understandably lower so far than in mid-May of previous years.
The next issue will be the opening of the three Yellowstone Montana gates, bringing some sorely needed traffic to Gardiner, West Yellowstone and Cooke City. Though many in the area wanted to see an opening for the Memorial Day weekend, the soonest we could see an opening is June—and judging by these quotes from Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly, there will be lots of discussion with local officials and Bullock’s office before that happens:
“There are some things we still need to work out with the state and counties,” Sholly said, “A lot we have addressed or are addressing.”
The park needs to be self-sufficient on testing and surveillance to satisfy Montana, he said.
Although the governor was asked about a limited opening of Montana’s entrances to Yellowstone, Sholly said that doesn’t make sense. The park could cap entrance at a certain number of visitors, but he said that could create more problems for gateway communities as tourists back up into the small towns instead of visiting the park.
You may also see some additional rules in place once visitor services and concessions open. For instance, you can expect concessionaires to require face masks (and supply them) once their facilities open, and the National Park Service may require them for those entering visitor centers. Face masks aren’t currently mandated for outdoor areas, but social distancing is strongly encouraged via signage as visitors enter the park. Right now there are limited openings planned between now and June 15-19, when Xanterra is planning on the opening of many services. However, the game plan as of today is for a limited opening of these services: Lodging will be limited to cabins and cottages with their own bathroom facilities, and the food offerings are likely to be grab and go for much of the summer.
Photo by Jacob W. Frank, courtesy National Park Service.