Yellowstone National Park turns 150 years old Friday — and park staff and concessionaires are throwing an appropriately exuberant party to celebrate.
Friday’s public celebration of the birthday of the world’s first national park will be held at Old Faithful Inn, kicking off the 150th summer season of America’s first national park.
To commemorate the event, a ceremony will be held with remarks from representatives of the National Park Service and Xanterra Travel Collection – but after the pomp and circumstances, the fun begins.
Much like a child’s birthday party, there will be rides (free historic Yellow Bus tours in the Old Faithful area), colorful decorations (a Native American art exhibit) and food (from the concessionaires), as well as free walking tours of the historic Old Faithful Inn.
But Yellowstone’s birthday means much more than just an excuse for a celebration – Yellowstone was the start of an idea that has resonated around the world.
“Yellowstone is a place of tremendous inspiration,” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing at Xanterra Parks & Resorts-Yellowstone. “Inspiration that’s contributed to spiritual well-being. That inspiration has led to America’s best idea, and has contributed to science, art, music, literature, and so much more.”
Hoeninghausen, who has worked in Yellowstone for more than 30 years, was referring to the National Park Service when he referenced “America’s best idea.”
Since Yellowstone was opened in March of 1872, 422 other national parks have been created across the country.
“Yellowstone is not only America’s first national park, but it’s the first national park in the world,” said Cam Sholly, Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. “In many ways, Yellowstone is the genesis of the national park idea. It’s also really one of the first examples of this country’s recognition that conservation and preservation of high value resources is important and should be a major priority.”
More than 4 million visitors per year come through the gates of Yellowstone – a far cry from the 13,727 visitors who entered the park in 1904. Data from 2021 showed that 4,860,242 people visited the park.
But the region was a popular destination for humans thousands of years before John Colter, a veteran of the Lewis & Clark expedition, first laid eyes on the area’s unique topography.
A big part of the celebration in Yellowstone on Friday will center around a renewed relationship with Native American tribes who discovered the region’s geothermal features thousands of years ago.
“Indigenous people have known about, visited, and found inspiration in the Yellowstone Area for at least 11,000 years,” Hoeninghausen pointed out. “And early expeditions ultimately recognized the significance of this area, which led to the establishment of the first national park documented by art, photography, and literature.”
Sholly acknowledged the leadership of new Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, as well as that of the newly-appointed Director of the National Park Service, Chuck Sams, who are both of Native American heritage.
“I really do applaud and share their vision on our responsibility to more fully engage Native American tribal nations and recognize their significant ancestral and modern connections to Yellowstone,” Sholly said. “I think the anniversary is a great point in time to do that.”
About 96% of the 2.2 million-acre park is in Wyoming, 3% is in Montana and 1% is in Idaho, and has some of the largest and diverse ranges of natural, cultural and geologic resources found anywhere on the planet – which is much of the reason why Xanterra has themed the anniversary event “150 Years of Inspiration.”
“Our natural attractions, including scenery, geothermal features and wildlife are predominantly what Yellowstone’s know for,” Hoeninghausen said, “and the trend for rustic national park architecture, sometimes called ‘Parkitechture,’ was also largely inspired by Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn.”
With the opening of the park’s east gate on Friday, three of the five entrances to Yellowstone will be accessible to the public. The northeast entrance at Cooke City, Montana, will open on May 11; and the south entrance, from Jackson through Grand Teton National Park, will open on May 13.