JACKSON – When Yellowstone National Park officials evacuated visitors last week after historic flooding, 64-year-old Julie Miller was frustrated.
After getting a buyout deal from her employer, Miller took off from Fort Myers, Florida, in a truck with her husband. The goal: a months-long road trip, ditching the “bucket list” like visiting Yellowstone on the way. Flooding disrupted her plans to reach Yellowstone last week, but she holed up in Jackson with her friends in Colter Bay.
“I’d rather close it and be safe, and wait for it to reopen,” Miller said.
And that’s exactly what I did, getting up at 3:30 a.m. on a Wednesday, heading for the south entrance in Yellowstone, and taking what looked like a second place in line to enter the park. That was “good,” she said, although Miller wanted to get there first for “nostalgia.”
She and others waiting in line at the south entrance before the gates opened at about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, drove some of the 5,000 strange cars that entered the park, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people on board, according to Yellowstone manager Cam Scholey.
Schole said 5,000 vehicles entering the park in one day is about half the normal rate for this time of year, a goal that license plate-based entry system officials have set to limit visitation as Yellowstone repairs damage in the northern half.
When the gates opened Wednesday morning, officials opened only 200 miles or so of roads in the South Ring — about half of the roads in the park. The northern ring and the northern and northeastern roads were inaccessible, devastated by flood waters.
By only allowing vehicles with even number plates to enter on Wednesdays – under the new system, vehicles with even number plates will be able to enter on even days of the month, and owners of odd-number plates can enter on odd days – officials aim to cut visitation .
The goal was to allow visitors and boost the economies of the gateway communities while reducing pressure on roads, bridges and other infrastructure in Yellowstone.
On Wednesday afternoon, Schole was upbeat about the first day.
“So far I’m pleasantly surprised,” he told The Jackson Hole Daily. “At least on day one, the system did what it was supposed to do, which was cut traffic in half from normal numbers.”
Although long lines of cars emerged from the west, south and east entrances early in the morning before the park officially opened, Shuli said the lines were mostly cleared by noon, including in West Yellowstone, which is notorious for long wait times to enter the park. . park.
“By midday at 12:30 there were only 20 cars in line in West Yellowstone,” he said.
Shuli also said visitors have largely complied with the new license plate system, which officials said could be a temporary fix as they develop a more formal reservation system.
The supervisor told the newspaper that the reservation system was “off the shelf”. He’s previously said that if the license plate system is working, he may not move to the more formal reservation system.
By 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Shuli said, the park had removed only 50 of about 5,000 cars for having incorrect license plates.
“This is an astronomically high compliance rate,” he said. “So we really appreciate the audience for their insight and interest.”
However, Schuli said there have been some incidents, including a group of people switching license plates from an even-numbered car to an odd-numbered car, in an attempt to tamper with the system. He said these people received a verbal warning, but he warned others not to do so.
“This is a crime, and if that happens we will send them tickets and impound their cars,” Shuli told the Daily.
The 10 groups who spoke with The Daily on Wednesday in Yellowstone said they were largely happy with the system.
Other potential visitors emailed the Daily worrying about the difficulty of planning, among other concerns.
However, Don Hauser, 60, of Superior, Wisconsin, was pleased with the system when he chatted with a reporter while lounging next to Grand Prismatic Spring. Hauser said he thought it was much better than the reservation system because it avoided the digital world.
“You don’t have to fight online,” he said.
For his part, Schole acknowledged that “simplicity and predictability” were an advantage of the license plate system.
“That’s the thing with the reservation system,” he said. “You might be able to have one, and you might not.”
Traffic and crowds were relatively moderate throughout the southern ring on Wednesday. While the Old Faithful parking lot filled up shortly before noon and the line of traffic headed south toward the famous geyser from Norris soon after, the northern parts of the South Ring were relatively quiet.
There was a line in the pit latrine near Gibbon Falls, but at about 12:30 p.m., there were no cars in the overflow yard near Norris Geyser Basin. About an hour later, the staff at Canyon Lodge in Canyon Village were joking about how quiet the cafeteria was compared to the grill across the street.
Shuli said there were some problems.
Some people who booked into Madison Campground, which is closed, were allowed into the park, but did not stay. The Daily watched a bison approach the Old Faithful and park rangers chase visitors away, avoiding any dangerous contact with human horns.
One person had a heart attack and later died, Shuli said.
“We have 700 to 1,000 medical calls every year in the park,” Schole said, describing the death as “extremely tragic.
“But that’s part of managing the process,” the supervisor said. “Anytime you bring tens of thousands of people somewhere, there will be thousands of people anyway, you’re going to have law enforcement accidents and EMS accidents.”
Chris Cafiero, 40, was one of 10,000 or so people who entered Yellowstone on Wednesday. He was visiting from France and met his friends, Mike and Charlotte Mulger, both 40 years old, and now living in Utah.
The three friends and Mullers’ daughter, Seely, 11, were waiting in line around 7 a.m. on Wednesday, excited to enter the park for the first time. Cafiero said they were expecting “some beautiful scenery, and maybe some wildlife as well.”
“We know the park north is closed,” he said. “But the south is good enough.”
This story was published on June 23, 2022.