By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Yellowstone National Park is a hugely popular tourist destination, with annual visitation averaging more than 4 million people per year.
But because of this year’s pandemic, 2020 has seen a steep decline in the number of people entering the gates.
Part of that is due to limited lodging options, because Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the park’s main concessionaire, made the decision to keep their hotels and lodges closed for health reasons.
But Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra reported that just this week, officials made the decision to open up more lodging for visitors.
“On July 3, the Sandpiper Lodge near Yellowstone Lake Lodge opened,” he said, adding that in the coming week some rooms will be available at Canyon Lodge and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.
“And then on the 17th of July, at the Mammoth Hotel, we’ll be able to open some hotel rooms,” he said.
Hoeninghausen said the mandatory use of masks by both staff and guests is one of the reasons park officials feel confident in opening more properties.
“We’re very front line,” he points out. “We’re talking to a lot of visitors from all over the place, and so it seemed like a good step to make.”
Hoeninghausen said the demand for lodging is increasing as visitation continues to rise.
Morgan Warthin, public affairs specialist for Yellowstone National Park, said that park officials have seen a marked increase in visitor numbers since the park first opened in the middle of May.
“When we opened the Wyoming gates on May 18, we were at about 19% of 2019 visitation,” she said. “And what we know from visitation for mid-June is that we’re at about 89%.”
Both Hoeninghausen and Warthin said that upwards of 600 park employees – both National Park Service and Xanterra staff – have undergone rigorous testing for coronavirus, and so far, every test has come back negative.
Warthin says the Park Service has one overall request of its visitors.
“We are asking visitors to recreate responsibly,” she said. “We highly recommend wearing masks, and to social distance.”