By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily
Wednesday’s reopening of Yellowstone National Park went “pretty well,” with about 5,000 cars admitted to the park under its limited entry system, Superintendent Cam Sholly told Cowboy State Daily.
Sholly, in an exclusive interview Wednesday afternoon, said while there were lines of cars miles long at park entrances Wednesday morning, they had been cleared by Wednesday afternoon, giving him optimism about the park’s reopening plan.
“I think I’d be really worried if it was … still miles and miles of backup right now,” he said. “But considering it cleared out pretty quickly and the team was adapting to a new system, I think it went pretty well overall.”
Wednesday was the first day the park’s southern loop was opened since the entire park was closed and evacuated in the face of historic flooding on June 13.
The park’s northern loop remains closed and to ease the burden on the infrastructure in the south, the park adopted an entry system that relies on license plate digits.
Vehicles with license plates ending with an even digit can enter on even-numbered days and those with license plates ending with an odd digit will be allowed in on odd-numbered days.
The end result was 5,000 vehicles in the park, compared to normal daily traffic of about 10,000.
Sholly praised the park’s staff for getting the system in place quickly and added it seemed to accomplish its goal of reducing park traffic by half.
“The teams did a great job putting that together quickly,” he said. “It’s not without its own flaws. I think it does help us accomplish the goal of moderating traffic in the south loop.”
Long lines are normal at park entrances on any day, Sholly said, but he noted that the entrance gates opened later than usual Wednesday, at 8 a.m.
“We had a line that started forming … early on, so the lines are pretty long before the gates even opened,” he said.
He added the gates would open earlier moving forward.
Fewer than 50 vehicles had to be turned away from park entrances because their license plates did not end in an even digit.
Sholly said he has heard reaction to the entry system was good on the part of park visitors.
“I’m sure there’s some people that are irritated but generally a lot of positive feedback from visitors to (have the park) open,” he said.
Sholly also said the park’s north entrance near Gardiner should open on a limited basis sooner than many believe.
“We have been operating at a pace that gives me great confidence,” Scholly said.
He said once the entrance does open, its roads will be open for commercial operators such as wildlife and fishing guides.
“It won’t be open like, you know visitors can just come and go as they want,” he said. “It’ll still be under some kind of restricted, controlled access, but I’m optimistic that we will get visitors from Gardiner into the park … sooner than what people think.”
Support from the federal government, particularly Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, were critical in getting the park open, Sholly said.
“If it wasn’t for their support, this wouldn’t be happening this quickly,” he said. “They got us the funding available to move forward on these temporary solutions to reconnect these communities. Just incredible support.”
He also praised the support from Gov. Mark Gordon and the gateway communities around the park.
“Gov. Gordon has been outstanding,” he said. “It’s a true team effort both for the short-term solutions and for the long-term solutions.”