CODY — Yellowstone National Park superintendent Cam Sholly said he believes the nation’s oldest national park has “plateaued a little bit” in annual attendance at 4-million-plus. And since the park’s system and operations can handle that tourist flow, Sholly said there is no reason to institute any drastic visitation rules such as requiring reservations to visit, or establishing a bus system from surrounding communities. Sholly provided Yellowstone updates Tuesday afternoon to Park County commissioners in an hour-long session.
He reiterated his commitment to a five-step priority list he announced in Cody at the National Parks Day luncheon in May.
He also said construction near Fishing Bridge, that can bring up to 30-minute delays to motorists entering or exiting the Park through the East Entrance, is moving along well and should be completed by the end of 2020.
Park ranger Brad Ross, who used that road to join Sholly in Cody, said much congestion has been relieved at the junction just past Fishing Bridge.
“That’s all pretty much done,” Ross said.
Despite a chorus of complaints that periodically float around about Yellowstone being overcrowded, Sholly said a visitor survey from last year indicates “75 percent of first-time visitors” are “pretty happy” with their experience.
Others, who are repeat customers with a specific destination, “are frustrated” because they might be the 30th car in a bison jam and can’t progress at a faster pace.
Historically, it takes about 20 years for Yellowstone annual visitation growth to jump by a million people a year, Sholly said, with the leap from 3 million to 4 million being much swifter. However, since 2015, and including this year, attendance has been counted at 4 million or so.
“There are a lot of places in the Park even in July that are not that crowded,” he said. Exceptions would be the areas at Geyser Basin and Madison Junction to West Yellowstone where Sholly said something must be done to alleviate traffic backups. Due to overcrowding, some parks with multi-million annual attendance have adopted reservation plans to be allowed to enter, but Sholly said they are a fraction of the size of Yellowstone’s 2.2-million acres.
He said he sees neither a reservation system nor a bus system connecting gateway communities becoming policy “in the foreseeable future in any way, shape, or form.”
By Lew Freedman
Cody Enterprise Via Wyoming News Exchange