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Devils Tower Sees Record Visitation Numbers This Year Despite Pandemic

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Devils Tower National Monument has seen record monthly visitation numbers this year despite being closed for nearly two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Devils Tower hosted 9,005 recreation visits in November, up 110% from November 2019. This was the busiest November on record and the third month in row of record visitation at the Tower.

Through November, the park recorded 420,330 recreation visits for 2020, down just 7% from the same period in 2019 despite the fact the country’s first national monument was closed from March 25 through May 21 due to health and safety concerns related to the pandemic.

Beginning in August, park visitation increased rapidly, with September, October and November seeing record visitor numbers.

Early winter visitation has continued to follow the upward trend, even though the season is typically very quiet, monument officials said.

The list below shows month to month recreation visits for the period between August through November compared to the same time in 2019.

August
2019 – 100,207
2020 – 113,593

September – record visitation
2019 –62,469
2020 – 68,726

October – record visitation
2019 –17,290
2020 – 29,908

November – record visitation
2019 – 4,294
2020 – 9,005

Visitors are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for face coverings, physical distancing, and hand washing while visiting Devils Tower.

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Free New Year’s Day Hikes To Be Held Across Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Those looking to get a head start on their New Year’s resolutions can start off 2021 on the right foot with the annual First Day Hike at state parks on New Year’s Day.

However, there will be a few changes implemented this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Participants will be asked to adhere to social distancing guidelines and pre- and post-hike refreshments will not be made available as in the past due to coronavirus concerns.

However, members of the public are encouraged to bring their own snacks and hot beverages.

This year, 11 New Year’s Day guided hikes and walks will be offered at state park and historic site venues, held in conjunction with similar hikes held in all 50 states as a part of the America’s State Parks First Day Hikes initiative.

This is the 10th consecutive year Wyoming is offering free First Day Hikes.

Park staff and volunteers will lead this year’s hikes, which will range in distance from 1/2 to 3.5 miles.

Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website.

In Wyoming, hikes will be offered at the following locations and times:

Bear River State Park – Approx. 1-2-mile hike in the park on easy terrain, meet at Bear River State Park Visitor Center, 10 a.m., 307-789-6547

Boysen State Park – Two-mile hike through moderate to difficult terrain, meet at park headquarters, 10 a.m., 307-876-2796

Buffalo Bill State Park – Four-mile hike on easy terrain, meet at Hayden Arch Bridge (1.5 miles out of town on Old Yellowstone Hwy.), 9 a.m., 307-587-9227

Curt Gowdy State Park – Two-mile hike on easy to moderate terrain, meet at Curt Gowdy Visitor Center, 11 a.m., 307-632-7946

Fort Bridger State Historic Site – One-mile hike on easy terrain, meet at Post Trader’s Store, 1 p.m., 307-782-3842

Pioneer Museum – The hike distance will be an easy one-mile hike around the fairgrounds; meet at WY Pioneer Memorial Museum lobby at 10 am, afterwards join the group for hot chocolate and coffee to warm up in the Museum lobby, 307-358-9288

Guernsey State Park – 3.5-mile hike, start and end at the Castle, 10 a.m., 307-836-2334

Hot Springs State Park – Easy ½-mile or more difficult one-mile hikes, meet at the Chamber Office, 11 a.m., 307-864-2176

Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site – One-mile hike over easy terrain, meet in main parking lot, 10 a.m., 307-469-2234

Sinks Canyon State Park – One-mile hike on easy to moderate terrain, meet at Nature Trail parking lot, 1 p.m., 307-332-6333

South Pass City State Historic Site – Two-mile hike, meet at Dance Hall, 1 p.m., 307-332-3684

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Grand Teton National Park Sees Highest October Visitation On Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Continuing the trend from late summer, Grand Teton National Park again saw record-breaking visitation numbers, this time through the month of October.

The park hosted an estimated 351,173 recreational visits over October, an 88% increased compared to October 2019. Statistics show that this October saw the highest number of recreation visits on record for the month.

The list below shows the October trend for recreation visits over the last several years:

  • 2020—351,173
  • 2019—186,487
  • 2018—207,534
  • 2017—187,499
  • 2016—186,185
  • 2015—190,681

Visitors to Grand Teton National Park are reminded to plan ahead and recreate responsibly.

The park highly encourages visitors to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local and state authorities, by maintaining social distancing guidelines and wearing a face covering when in buildings and high-visitation areas outside. 

The park saw an estimated 603,789 recreation visits in September, a 17% increase compared to September 2019. 

In general, hiking use in the park increased approximately 54%, camping in concession-operated campgrounds increased 24% and backcountry camping increased 79% in September 2020 compared to September 2019. 

In August, the park hosted an estimated 710,198 visits, the second-highest number of recreation visits on record, just behind August 2017.

Yellowstone National Park has also seen record-breaking numbers over the last few months, setting all-time visitation records in September and October, as well.

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Yellowstone Sets Another Milestone With Busiest October In Recorded History

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Continuing a trend seen throughout the fall, Yellowstone National Park smashed another visitation record, reporting its busiest October in recorded history.

The park hosted 360,034 recreation visits in October, up 110% from October 2019. October’s visitation numbers also exceeded the previous record of 252,013 set in 2015 by 43%

The park hosted 837,499 recreation visits in September, a 21% increase from September 2019.

August was the second-busiest on record for the area — with visitor numbers coming in at 881,543, second only to 2017, the year of the total solar eclipse.

The park has hosted 3,743,907 visits so far this year, down 6% from the same period last year. However, the park was closed due to health and safety reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic beginning March 24 until mid-May, when its two Wyoming entrances opened.

All five of the entrances were opened on June 1, and the park has been completely open since then.

Here are the park’s year-to-date visitation numbers through October for the last several years:

  • 2020 – 3,743,907
  • 2019 – 3,979,153
  • 2018 – 4,078,771
  • 2017 – 4,084,762
  • 2016 – 4,212,782
  • 2015 – 4,066,191

All roads in Yellowstone, with one exception, are closed to automobile traffic from early November to late April.

The road from the park’s North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, through Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance and the communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, is open year-round, weather-permitting.

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Grand Teton Sees Increase In Visits In August, Despite Pandemic

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Grand Teton National Park has seen an increase in visits in the last month, with its August numbers posting a 1.2% increase compared to the same period last year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

In August, the park hosted an estimated 710,198 visits, the second-highest number of recreation visits on record, just behind August 2017, the park announced this week.

The visits over the last five years have fluctuated:

  • August 2010: 710,198
  • August 2019: 702,022
  • August 2018: 692,074
  • August 2017: 716,690
  • August 2016: 633,657
  • August 2015: 651,245

Over the summer, the Grand Teton hiking trails in the park have increased daily traffic and all campgrounds in the park have filled earlier each day compared to previous summers, according to officials.

In general, hiking in the park increased approximately 26% and camping in concession-operated campgrounds increased 13 compared to August 2019. However, backcountry camping was down 10% this year.

Although August saw a slight increase in visits compared to last year, July saw a 3% decrease compared to the year prior, only hosting 755,762 visits this year.

The trend is similar to one seen in Yellowstone National Park, where the number of visitors in July grew by 2% over 2019 figures to total 955,645.

However, Yellowstone’s year-to-date attendance through the end of July was down by 27.5% from the same period in 2019.

Yellowstone’s August visitation figures will not be available until later this month.

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Winds Cause Major Tree Carnage At Bridger-Teton National Forest

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A major windstorm at the Bridger-Teton National Forest this week has downed hundreds of trees throughout the area, causing many trails to be closed for a time.

Wind gusts were measured at more than 60 mph during the windstorm on Monday, according to a release from the U.S. Forest Service. All of the forest roads on the Pinedale Ranger District have been cleared, but there are still hundreds of trees down across trails.

The Big Sandy Lodge southeast of Pinedale is currently closed because of the damage. It is 4 miles from the Big Sandy Trailhead north on the Continental Divide Trail. It took hikers seven hours to cover the 4-mile stretch due to downed trees. the Forest Service reported.

At the Pole Creek Trailhead near Fremont Lake, hundreds of trees have been blown down, covering the trail’s first 2.5 miles. At the Miller Park turnoff, there downed trees created a massive blockage that is impassable.

About 100 downed trees have been counted in the 10-mile Highline Trail south from the Green River Lakes to Three Forks Park.

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Sublette County Search And Rescue Sees Death, Multiple Lost Over Labor Day Weekend

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Sublette County volunteer search and rescue team Tip Top had a busy holiday weekend responding to a number of calls, according to a Facebook post this week by one of the all-volunteer force’s members.

The action began Saturday with a call from the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office asking for assistance with a climbing fatality on Pingora Peak. A woman climber fell approximately 400 feet off of the South Buttress.

The precursor to the Labor Day storm was bringing strong winds to the area, so members of Tip Top’s short haul team had to carefully work their way into the Cirque of Towers to drop off two members to assess and assist the fallen climber and her partner.

Although Tip Top members performed CPR for more than half an hour, the climber had succumbed to her injuries from the fall and was pronounced dead at the scene. Due to strong winds in the area, the decision was ultimately made to wait until the early hour of Sunday to retrieve the woman’s body.

On Sunday, the team successfully loaded the climber into a transport and rendezvoused with Fremont County officials.

Late Saturday night, Tip Top volunteers received reports of two separate cases of altitude sickness in the mountains of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Both of the people were ill and unable to walk out of the forest due to exhaustion and dehydration.

Late Sunday evening, another person reported experiencing altitude sickness and was unable to walk from the Dad’s Lake area due to extreme illness and dehydration. Tip Top team members were flown in Monday to assess the man’s condition and he was ultimately flown to the Pinedale Medical Clinic.

On Tuesday, two emergency calls came in from separate parties who needed to be rescued from the aftermath of the wind and snowstorm on Monday.

“The aftermath of the storm would present many challenges for the SAR team and plans changed hourly as more information was gathered of the damage the wind had created in the tree-covered access trails,” the post said.

One hiker’s tent was shredded by the wind, leaving him exposed to snow, ice and low temperatures. The other call was from a father and daughter on horses near Crescent Lake who became concerned for their safety during the night with the intense winds.

At this time, trails became impassable due to trees being knocked down. So a 10-person team was assembled early Tuesday to access the wilderness boundary near Wolf Lake.

The hiker with the shredded tent was found alive midday Tuesday, although extremely cold.

The father/daughter team later turned their emergency message back to “OK,” but a helicopter later saw a man with a string of horses on Scab Creek Trail. The trail was blocked by a number of downed trees around him.

His daughter made her way down the trail and was ultimately reunited with her father, and the entire party got out of the mountains.

The helicopter was also used by the Fremont County sheriff to rescue nine individuals stranded due to snow and low temperatures. After three trips, all nine were recovered.

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Man Dies In Boating Accident At Glacier National Park

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Montana man died in a boating accident at Glacier National Park over the weekend.

According to the National Park Service, Ronald Newton, 62, died after falling into the water when his pontoon boat flipped Saturday.

A Park Service news release said Glacier rangers responded to a report of a medical emergency near Glacier Run on the North Fork of the Flathead River.

After traveling about 2 miles upriver to Fool Hen Rapids, rangers found air ambulance staff working to revive Newton, a resident of Columbia Falls, Montana.

According to witnesses, Newton was part of a group floating the river Saturday. When two pontoon boats tied together became stuck on a rock, Newton tried to free them from his own boat. When his pontoon boat flipped, he was submerged in the water.

A friend recovered Newton from the water and several bystanders initiated CPR on a nearby gravel bar. Reports indicate he wasn’t wearing a personal flotation device or helmet at the time of the accident.

Bystanders and medics performed CPR for more than one hour, but Newton died at the scene.

His cause of death is still undetermined.

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Boaters Keep Capsizing, Getting Pinned At Snake River In Grand Teton

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After eight boating mishaps on the Snake River required rescue operations by Grand Teton National Park staff in one month, staff members are reminding boaters to know their skill levels and put on a personal flotation device before getting out on the water.

Not only have there been eight incidents requiring park assistance, but “several” more that resulted in capsized or pinned vessels that were resolved with the assistance of partners or private boaters and without park personnel, according to a National Park Service news release.

Several boats have been sunk by or become tangled up in midstream log jams because their operators were boating outside their skill level, the release said. These instances can prove dangerous or even fatal.

One accident saw both occupants of a boat fall into the water after the boat hit a log jam. They were swept under the log jam, resurfaced and were swept under a second time. National Park Service officials said the two survived only because they were wearing life jackets.

While no deaths or serious injuries have resulted from the accidents, the Park Service news release noted there have been a number of close calls over the last month. Almost all of the incidents have occurred in the Deadmans Bar to Moose Landing section in the Bar BC area of the river.

This is the most accident-prone section of river in the park, due to the fact that it drops more steeply in this area and the current increases.

Boaters are reminded to tell someone where they are going and when they plan to return. If an accident or injury occurs, this information could prove vital if a rescue is necessary.

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Popular Trail At Grand Teton To Temporarily Close (But For Good Reason)

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grand Teton National Park will close a section of one of its most popular trails intermittently over the next couple of weeks for an improvement project.

There will be occasional 30-minute closures on a section of the Teton Crest Trail near the summit of Hurricane Pass between now through Aug. 24 and Sept. 3-8.

Backpackers planning on hiking the trail during these dates should expect delays in both directions.

Over time, heavy water flow from melting snow has caused severe erosion and has exposed bedrock along areas of the trail. The trail damage now poses safety hazards to hikers and has forced the creation of several social trails.  

The project will create a new trail bench in its historic location and help restore the integrity of the trail. 

While the Tetons are largely comprised of granite, the damaged area is mainly limestone, which is softer and erodes faster. By removing portions of the eroded trail, a new solid surface will be created from the existing bedrock.

During construction, loose materials such as rocks and gravel may be moved downhill and cause a safety hazard to hikers below. For safety purposes, the trail will have intermittent closures during construction activities. 

Closures will allow uninterrupted work to be performed and provide time to clear the trail of any newly created hazards.   

The trail is a 45-mile long trek through the high country of the Teton Range. Sections of the trail were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps dating back to 1934, and although it’s constantly used, much of the trail has remained largely untouched since then.

Hurricane Pass is one of the highest points along the Teton Crest Trail at 10,338 ft. in elevation.

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