Portions of Yellowstone National Park will reopen on Wednesday to a limited number of visitors, and the National Park Service will spend $50 million on rapid repairs to restore access to about 80 percent of the park within two weeks, officials said Sunday.
The Park Service made the announcements a week after historic flooding prompted the closure of Yellowstone and the evacuation of thousands of visitors at the start of the busy summer season.
The Park Service announced on Saturday that it would reopen the eastern, southern and western entrances to the park on Wednesday. The reopening will allow visitors access to the park’s southern loop, which includes the Old Faithful geyser.
The northern portion of the park and its entrances, which were more severely damaged by flooding, remained closed, but the Park Service said Sunday it would spend $50 million to restore temporary access to the northern portion of the park, including Gardiner’s and Cooke City, Mont., within two weeks.
Visitors could use those access points upon completion of infrastructure repair inspections in the park’s northern loop, the Park Service said. Once that happens, access would be restored to about 80 percent of Yellowstone, which spans more than two million acres — primarily in Wyoming, but also Idaho and Montana. Popular attractions in the northern part of the park include Dunraven Pass, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Norris Geyser Basin.
Severe weather in the US
“We’ve made tremendous progress in a very short time, but we still have a long way to go,” Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of visitors would normally have kicked off their summer holidays this week in the park, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year. Instead, officials are still sifting through the destruction that began on the weekend of June 11, when two to three inches of rain combined with warming temperatures melted up to two inches of snow, destroying flooding and roads and bridges in the park.
By the afternoon of June 13, citing “extremely dangerous conditions” and “unprecedented” rainfall, park officials had announced that all park entrances would be closed and that they would begin evacuating people who were inside.
Much of the worst damage is in the northern part of the park, and officials have not provided a timeline for when it could fully reopen. Portions of a major road along the Gardiner River in Montana were completely washed away, cutting communities and businesses off from the rest of the park. Other roads remain closed due to mudslides, missing bridges or fallen trees, officials said.
Under the new entry system, visitors will be allowed to enter the park based on the last digit of their vehicle’s license plate. Odd numbers are allowed on odd dates and even numbers are allowed on even dates. Visitors with reservations are admitted regardless of their license plate.
The park service said it had worked with local businesses and residents to manage demand for access from the damage caused by rain and flooding. The license plate system was suggested by people living near the park, and its effectiveness would be assessed within a month.
Last year was the busiest ever for Yellowstone, as visitors flocked to outdoor recreation amid the coronavirus pandemic. Last July it attracted more than a million visitors, a monthly record.
While it’s difficult to directly link this month’s damage in Yellowstone to climate change, scientists have warned that the changing environment will significantly alter U.S. national parks in the coming years. Last year’s federal infrastructure bill included $1.7 billion in funding for national parks, in part for climate mitigation projects, such as moving trails out of floodplains.