By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
Yellowstone National Park officials on Saturday announced that the south loop of Yellowstone will re-open to visitors on Wednesday, June 22 at 8.am.
The south loop is accessed from the East entrance (Cody), the West entrance (West Yellowstone), and South entrance (Grand Teton/Jackson).
Areas accessible include Madison, Old Faithful, Grant Village, Bridge Bay, Fishing Bridge, Lake Village, Canyon Village, and Norris, as well as the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center.
The northern loop of the Park, meanwhile, which encompasses the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Lamar Valley will remain closed, the park said.
Areas in the south loop that will remain closed include Canyon Village Lodges & Cabins, the campgrounds at Canyon, Madison, Norris and Lewis Lake, as well as the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center.
“Less than six days ago, Yellowstone National Park was hit with devastating floods,” Superintendent Cam Sholly said on Saturday. “Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our teams and partners, we are prepared to reopen the south loop of Yellowstone.”
Officials stressed that not everyone will be able to enter Yellowstone at once.
“It is impossible to reopen only one loop in the summer without implementing some type of system to manage visitation,” Sholly said, explaining that a balance must be struck between the demand for visitor access, park resource protection and economic interests of the communities.
Keeping those priorities in mind, the park will institute an interim visitor access plan. The interim plan, referred to as the Alternating License Plate System (ALPS), was suggested as a solution by gateway communities during major public engagement with the park this past week.
“My thanks to our gateway partners and others for helping us work out an acceptable temporary solution for the south loop, while we continue our efforts to reopen the north loop,” Sholly said.
The ALPS system allows entry based on whether the last numerical digit on a license plate is odd or even, corresponding to the odd or even calendar date. Personalized plates comprised of all letters (for example, YLWSTNE) will fall into the “odd” category, and plates with a mix of letters and numbers but that end with a letter (for example, YELL4EVR) will be considered using the last numerical digit on the plate.
Anyone attempting to enter any of the gates on dates that don’t correspond to the odd/even system will be turned away.
However, officials say operators with active commercial use permits will be allowed to enter regardless of license plate number, including commercial tours. Commercial motorcoaches will also be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number.
Additionally, visitors with proof of overnight reservations in the park’s hotels, campgrounds and backcountry will be permitted to enter regardless of license plate number, as will essential services like mail and delivery services, and employees and contractors.
Sholly acknowledged that the system isn’t perfect, but is the best option at the moment – and in the meantime, the National Park Service is building a new reservation system that will be ready for implementation if needed.
“As we go through the reopening process, we will monitor the system’s effectiveness and work together to make adjustments that may be necessary,” Sholly said.
Over the next few weeks, Park managers and staff will monitor the license plate system and its impacts on resources, infrastructure, operations, and staffing. If concerns are noted, they may make adjustments.
Park managers are evaluating plans to reopen roads connecting Canyon Village, Tower Junction, Mammoth Hot Spring and Norris, according to officials – however, this will not happen initially.
“We will also reopen new sections of the park as repairs continue to be made,” Sholly said.
Park officials and staff are also working to reconnect Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner and Cooke City/Silver Gate as soon as possible with temporary solutions, while long-term reconstruction is planned.
“It is critical for visitors to stay informed about this interim system as we evaluate its effectiveness,” Sholly said. “They should plan ahead and be patient with us, as we are still managing significant recovery while moving into this operational phase.”