Summer Use Planning
Yellowstone provides a place where people can glimpse primitive America. A place where humans share an open landscape with thousands of wild animals, including bison, bears, elk, and wolves. A place where a volcano’s hidden power rises up in colorful hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. A place where people can see all of these things with relative ease thanks to a road system that connects five entrances with many popular destinations.
And more and more people want to experience it.
Since 2008, annual visitation to Yellowstone has increased by close to 40%, causing overflowing parking lots, a rise in traffic jams, roadside soil erosion and vegetation trampling, and unsanitary conditions around busy bathrooms. Half of this increase in visitation occurred in just two years (2014 to 2016), coupled by an even greater rise in motor vehicle accidents (+90%), ambulance use (+60%), and search and rescue efforts (+130%). Meanwhile, staffing levels and funding have remained flat over the last ten years (see graph below).
The National Park Service mission requires us to provide people the opportunity to enjoy Yellowstone without allowing that enjoyment to damage or diminish the very things they came to see. Most people want a park with fewer people and less traffic, but they don’t necessarily want limits on visitation or the use of private cars in the park. Yet all demographic trends point to the continued growth of annual visitation.
How can we prepare for this future? How has increased visitation affected people’s experiences? What do people expect when they come to Yellowstone? How do they typically move through the park?
We commissioned a number of studies to help us begin to answer these questions:
Visitor Use Study (2018, 2019)
Visitor Use Study (2016)
Transportation & Vehicle Mobility Study (2016)
These studies mark the beginning of our efforts to understand modern visitation and develop strategies to meet the challenges it presents. The strategies might include (but aren’t limited to) communication and traffic management systems, shuttle systems or other transportation alternatives, and reservations or timed-entry systems. These strategies could be implemented at key locations or park wide.
Difficult decisions lie ahead, and we’ll need your help to find compromises that balance the protection of resources with a shared desire to experience the world’s first national park. As we move forward in our planning efforts, we’ll be reaching out to the public, our partners, and nearby communities to get involved. We want to listen to all ideas about managing Yellowstone’s visitation.
Last updated: April 10, 2018