Yellowstone to half reopen, amid COVID-19 self-quarantine differences between states.
Access to the southern half of Yellowstone National Park will resume Monday by way of Wyoming, but park officials continue to talk with Montana officials about reopening the rest of the park after a seven-week closure because of the coronavirus, Superintendent Cam Sholly said Wednesday.
The partial reopening comes as other national parks, including busy Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina and Rocky Mountain in Colorado, begin or prepare to raise their gates at the urging of President Donald Trump.
Complicating Yellowstone’s reopening: Wyoming recently lifted a 14-day self-quarantine order for out-of-state visitors on nonessential business, but one remains in Montana.
Sholly nonetheless described Yellowstone’s split approach as a good way to help rangers get ready for a new visitor experience that will discourage shoulder-to-shoulder crowding at thermal features — summer scenes common in Yellowstone.
“I would prefer it’s not just a light switch and the park is open and we get inundated and overwhelmed and aren’t able to handle it,” Sholly said.
A “massive amount of signage” was ready to be put up to promote social distancing, Sholly said, adding that public cooperation would determine when all park services could resume without further interruption.
Most of Yellowstone is in Wyoming, with small portions overlapping in Montana and Idaho. But typically about 70% of traffic into the park passes through three gates in Montana. The three gates will open no sooner than June 1 to help communities near Yellowstone get ready for an influx of visitors, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday.
“While our economy certainly relies upon and we appreciate our visitors, we also want to ensure that those visitors don’t bring problems, meaning their infections, from their home state to our state. And when they do, we want to make sure that Montana is prepared,” Bullock said at a news conference.
The other 30% goes through two entrances in Wyoming. After those gates open next week, only the southern half of the park — including Old Faithful Geyser and popular thermal features nearby — will be accessible at first and then only for day use.