So much for COVID-19 dampening enthusiasm for regional travel: September Yellowstone visitation set an all-time record, according to numbers released today by the National Park Service.
The park hosted 837,499 recreation visits in September 2020. That’s a 21 percent increase from September 2019.
So far in 2020, the park has hosted 3,383,872 recreation visits, down 11 percent from the same period last year. But that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, as the park was closed due to health and safety reasons related to COVID-19 beginning March 24, 2020. Two Wyoming entrances opened on May 18 and three Montana entrances opened on June 1, 2020. All five entrances have been open since June 1.
The list below shows the year-to-date trend for recreation visits over the last several years (through September):
2020 – 3,383,872
2019 – 3,807,815
2018 – 3,860,695
2017 – 3,872,775
2016 – 3,970,778
2015 – 3,814,178
We’re guessing one reason why Yellowstone visitation was so strong in September: it was perceived as a safe have in a world threatened by COVID-19. In general, National Park Service officials and their concessions partners did a good job in addressing the virus and its mitigation. Despite those efforts, we did see an uptick in positive COVID-19 tests from NPS and concessionaire employees in September. According to a park service press release, 16 of the park’s estimated 2,000 employees, or 0.8 percent, have tested positive for COVID-19 since the first week of September, including seven National Park Service and nine concession employees. Eight of the 16 individuals have recovered, while the other eight individuals are still in recovery. All employees who have tested positive have been isolated per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and county public health guidelines. Contact tracing has occurred with the assistance of Park County, MT, and Park County, WY.
The new positives come after a successful effort to mitigate COVID-19 since a May park opening. The park had four positive employee cases between May 18 and August 30. A contractor also tested positive in June. As a result of the positives, the park has substantially increased employee surveillance testing and has conducted more than 1,100 tests since the first week of September. More than 3,000 tests have been conducted since the park reopened in May.
Photo of Yellowstone River drainage from Custer Gallatin National Forest by Diane Renkin, courtesy NPS.
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