By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
There’s an air of excitement on the first weekend in May at the eastern entrance to America’s first national park.
And the tradition held true Friday as the park opened its eastern gate for the 2021 season.
For tourists who come the park’s eastern entrance through Cody, a trip to Yellowstone National Park is often a lifelong dream.
Tim Austin from upstate New York said he’s been planning this trip for seven years, and drove over 1,800 miles to get here.
“This is like the place to go in the lower 48 for wildlife photography,” Austin said. “So I will be here until it’s so cold I can’t take it anymore.”
Vehicles began lining up at the east entrance to Yellowstone early Friday morning, with visitors waiting for their chance to experience the wonders of the park.
Stacy Boisseau of Powell, who arrived early Friday morning with her daughter and some friends, has been the first in line for the spring season opening for the last three years – a tradition she and her friends are proud of.
Others from the region also make the pilgrimage each year — like Brian Johnson from Billings, Montana.
He noted that the line of cars waiting to enter the Park this year was significantly longer than normal.
“I’ve been coming for the last 10 or 15 years on opening day,” said the wildlife photographer. “But this is the longest I’ve ever seen it, far and away.”
With the shutdowns related to the pandemic, Yellowstone last year was a prime destination for those who had been cooped up for too long under quarantine.
This year promises to be just as busy, now that travel restrictions have been lifted in most parts of the country.
And that’s good news for gateway communities like Cody.
The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce each year hosts a “Parks and Pancakes” celebration to mark the opening day of the east gate.
Tina Hoebelheinrich, the chamber’s executive director, said opening day is a jump start for the community.
“It sets the pace for this year,” she explained. “Those of us who live here, I think we miss the opportunity that Yellowstone represents on a day-to-day basis all winter long. So when this day finally comes, it’s such a great opportunity to get in the Park and remember why we live here.”
Hoebelheinrich added that a celebration like “Parks and Pancakes” gives Chamber board members and staff a chance to brush off the cobwebs of the winter and prepare to show off what Wyoming has to offer.
“We’re known for our exceptional western hospitality, and when you don’t have a lot of visitors all winter long, it just feels good to do what we do,” she said.