Within the next four to six years, traffic in Yellowstone National Park will reach peak capacity.
More than 4.25 million visitors came to Yellowstone in 2016. Many find parking a problem and more than half the people surveyed last year felt there were too many people in the park.
The National Park Service is concerned that the park won’t be able to handle the sheer number of vehicles that drive through it. Visitors come to see the spectacular scenery of the park, its native wolves and grizzly bears and its hot springs and geysers, most famously Old Faithful.
However, although the park extends to nearly 3,500 square miles of wilderness, visitors are channelled through a relatively small road network.
“Historic and recent trends demonstrate that visitation will increase over the long-term, therefore, it is imperative for us to plan now,” says Dan Wenk, Yellowstone Superintendent. “Good visitor use management will allow the park to protect resources, encourage access, and improve experiences.”
A pair of studies have just been released that look at traffic and parking, alongside visitor demographics and expectations.
The traffic study is based on conservative estimates of visitor growth to Yellowstone. It states that the national park is set to exceed its overall vehicular capacity by 2021-2023. It noted that more popular areas of the park are already over capacity during the peak season.
Additional traffic studies within the park and the Greater Yellowstone region have been advised to develop solutions.
The report made several suggestions park service officials might consider. These include managing the number of visitors who flock to the popular geyser basin attractions during peak time through “reservation systems.”
Another possible solution is to use shuttles. Other national parks already employ this system.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Morgan Warthin said that no decisions are imminent. The park considers the matter to be in a “pre-planning phase.”
It has pledged to gather more information and has promised to listen to all concerns before it shapes actions. The park will evaluate trade-offs in visitor experience while developing the most appropriate strategies to address the challenges that come with the busy summer season.
83 percent of Yellowstone’s visitors come from the United States while 17 percent come from abroad, predominantly from Europe and China.
The park is situated mostly in Wyoming, although parts spread into neighbouring Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone was the world’s first national park.
Image courtesy of Yellowstone National Park.