YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said Wednesday morning that park officials face difficult directions about reopening the park amid COVID-19 concerns.
Sholly said he’s striving to make the best decisions but won’t also reverse progress at containing COVID-19.
The Wyoming entrances will open on Monday, May 18 with visitation restricted to the lower loop of the park only. The northern part of the park remains closed. Approximately 70% of the park’s traffic travels through Montana.
Sholly added during the call officials want to be prepared for heavy travel from Montana and doesn’t think the Treasure State will be far behind Wyoming in opening the northern gates.
He noted that they will defer to Gov. Steve Bullock on opening the three Montana gates to Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone will also stay in limited opening mode at that time. There will be no overnight accommodations, trails and boardwalks will be open. No large tour busses allowed.
The park closed seven weeks ago with consensus from surrounding communities and states, Sholly said. He stated he wished he still had that consensus.
“Pressure is building economically, but people still want to be cautious,” he said, adding that any decision won’t be popular with everyone.
Sholly said he feels zero political pressure to reopen but does feel economic pressure. The reopening policy will be an evolving document that will change over time, it is cautious and stars conservatively with day use only.
Visitors should expect protective measures, including barriers, sanitation stations, distancing, and employee trainings. The park will meter the number of people allowed in facilities, and cleaning measures will be enforced. Expect lots of signage about social distancing and social media messages.
The park plans to hire only 25% of seasonal employees so they can live in separate, not shared housing so they can be isolated if they get infected with COVID-19.
The public will be asked to participate in enforcing the preventive measures. People will be asked to bring own face coverings and observe social distancing.
Grand Teton National Park will follow a similar opening plan to Yellowstone's.
What will be open beginning May 18?
- Phase 1 will begin on Monday, May 18 at 12:00 p.m. with the opening of the South and East entrances in the state of Wyoming.
- Visitors will be able to access the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road (see attached map) coming in and out of the South and East entrances only.
- Visitors will be able to access restrooms, self-service gas stations, trails and boardwalks, and other Phase 1 facilities that are prepared to open.
What will remain closed until later phases of the plan?
- The Montana entrances (North, West, and Northeast) will remain closed. The park is consulting with the Governor of Montana to establish reopening dates for the Montana entrances.
- Commercial tour buses will not be allowed in the early phases of opening.
- Overnight accommodations will be unavailable until later in the season.
- Campgrounds, backcountry permits, visitor cabins, additional stores, expanded tours, takeout food service, boating, fishing, and visitor centers will remain closed. These Phase 2 services and/or facilities will open when safe and appropriate mitigation measures are in place. This will happen at different times.
- Hotels, full-service dining, commercial tour buses, and ranger programs will remain closed. These Phase 3 services and/or facilities will reopen when health conditions allow.