By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
As snow continued to fall on Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday, Snowplow crews were working hard to clear the park’s roads of snow in time for the opening of its west gate by Friday.
At precisely 8 a.m. Friday, attendants at the west gate at West Yellowstone, Montana, will allow visitors — some of whom may have been waiting in line for hours — to be the first official guests for the park’s 2022 summer season.
And Katrina Wiese and her crew from the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce will be waiting to welcome them.
“On the opening day, the chamber gets together with some members of the community and we get muffins, and we meet the visitors that are waiting to get into the park,” Wiese told Cowboy State Daily. “And we welcome them to not only our town, but also the opening of the park for the spring, and of course, this year.”
This weekend’s opening of the west entrance will allow travelers to drive as far as Old Faithful and Canyon Village. The park’s east gate, from Cody, is scheduled to open Friday, May 6, with roads cleared from that gate to Canyon and Lake Villages. The south gate, from Jackson, will open May 13, allowing travel to West Thumb, Old Faithful and Tower Falls.
The road from the park’s north entrance to is open year-round as far as Mammoth Hot Springs, Montana, where the park’s business offices are located.
Snowplow crews have been working for more than a month now to clear the roads for automobile traffic, said Linda Veress, with the park’s public affairs office.
“Spring plowing normally begins the first week of March and will continue through the end of May,” Veress told Cowboy State Daily. “The whole process takes about two and a half months, but it really depends on the year and how much snow we’ve got, and just a variety of factors.”
Veress reported that 12 snowplow operators and two mechanics are responsible for plowing the snow and ice from 198 miles of main road, 124 miles of secondary roads and 125 acres of parking lots inside the park – as well as 31 miles of the Beartooth Highway outside the park’s Northeast Entrance.
“They work for the National Park Service on our road crews,” Veress said, “and a lot of them have been doing it for many years, and are quite good at it.”
Not As Much Snow
Snow depth this year is not as significant as in past years. Veress, so the snowplow operators should have no problem meeting the April 15 deadline.
“Right prior to the (current) snowstorm, it was actually fairly dry,” she said. “We didn’t get a lot of snow this year compared to other years, and so they are on schedule.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what the roads look like this year,” Wiese said. “Because we’ve had a lighter snow year than in previous years. But I still think that we’re going to see those snowbanks that are a typical part of the view of any Park road in the spring.”
For some of those who will line up outside the gate on Friday morning, the wait to get in is part of the fun, Wiese said.
“We usually have a long line, and sometimes people are getting in line hours before the park opens because they want to be the first or second person in the park,” she said. “It’s always fun for us to count how many cars we see enter once they open, and it’s always fun to see how far away people have traveled from to get into the park.”
Wiese said while most of the early birds are from nearby states such as Montana, Idaho or Wyoming, there are a few who make a longer journey.
“We’ve had some travelers from as far as California, especially this year, and some of our international travel is coming back,” she said.
But for those who live in gateway communities like West Yellowstone, the opening day for the park is always something to look forward to.
“Really, it’s a celebration for our town, everything starts opening up,” Wiese said. “Our businesses are all coming back online. We’re excited for what the year, and the summer, is going to bring for us.”
Just a reminder, the Park Service cautions that in the spring, weather conditions in Yellowstone can change rapidly, and many areas of the Park are still experiencing winter conditions.
Updated road status can be found by calling (307) 344-2117, or by going to the website.