By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Yellowstone National Park officially turns 150 years old this week, looking much different as a mature park than it did when it was created in 1872.
In that 150 years, the way visitors experience the Park has changed dramatically. Feeding the animals is no longer accepted, although gathering around the campfire is still popular. Wading in thermal pools is strictly forbidden these days, although hiking is still a favorite pastime.
And officials are working hard to make sure the next generation of visitors have the same opportunity to experience the area’s natural wonders — even if it’s not in the same way as in the late 1800s.
“Although we’re talking about 150 years of Yellowstone today, most of the success of us putting the pieces back together of this ecosystem have occurred largely over the last 50 to 60 years,” said Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly.
“The reintroduction of wolves in 1995 remains probably the single largest successful conservation effort in the history of this country, if not the world. Our grizzly numbers are back to levels that likely are higher than what they were pre-Yellowstone becoming a park. Cougars are back. The park’s bison population is at one of its highest levels since 1872. Our ungulate populations are in balance,” he said.
So despite what people hear about, you know, visitors over running the park, I think we’ve done a good job of correcting many of the mistakes of the past relating to the management of this ecosystem,” Sholly said.
In the 1880s, only 1,000 people a year came to Yellowstone, traveling via saddle horses or mules. Those numbers grew steadily through the years, and last year, nearly 5 million people experienced the natural wonders that still awe those who have seen the thermal features hundreds of times.
In part because of the increase in visitation, infrastructure projects are at the top of the list for Park administrators moving forward. Some roads, such as the road over Dunraven Pass, have been closed in recent years for much-needed renovation.
“In 2022 we will reopen the road between Chittenden Road and Tower, over Dunraven Pass,” Sholly said. “This has been closed for the past two years, part of a $28 million road improvement project – and for context, this portion of road has not been substantially improved since the 1930s.”
Sholly noted that Park administrators are looking forward to serving the next generation of visitors.
“Over the past two years, we have been working with Northwestern energy to improve our ability to use alternative energy, such as solar, and set goals to replace 26,000 incandescent light bulbs with LED light bulbs over the upcoming years,” he said. “And we’re looking to improve and increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the park.
“We’ve got a shuttle feasibility study underway to look at how a shuttle system could work in the Old Faithful-Midway Geyser corridor,” Sholly continued. “Many of you know that we piloted the first driverless shuttle at Canyon this past summer to see if that technology can work; we think it can.”
“We’ve come a long way together,” he said, “but we also have a very, very long way to go. We’re looking forward to continuing our progress to protect this incredible part for the future.”
Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park.