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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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Enzi, Barrasso Praise Expanded Fishing, Hunting Opportunities

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi have both praised a recent announcement that hunting and fishing opportunities across 2.3 million acres of land at 157 national wildlife refuges and national fish hatcheries will be expanded, including in some areas of Wyoming.

“This announcement to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on public lands is good news for sportsmen and for our state,” Enzi said in a news release regarding the change in U.S. Interior Department rules. “Wyoming is home to one-of-a-kind beauty and natural treasures. It’s important to ensure that our public lands and recreational areas are accessible to the public for multiple use so those unique areas can be enjoyed by more people.”

The changes in Wyoming include:

  • Bamforth National Wildlife Refuge: Open upland game and big game hunting for the first time.
  • Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuge: Open light goose hunting and sport fishing on acres already open to other hunting.
  • Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge: Open upland game and big game hunting for the first time on acres already open to other hunting.
  • Pathfinder National Wildlife Refuge: Open mourning dove hunting on acres already open to other hunting.

“Today’s final rule is welcome news to hunters and fishermen in Wyoming and across the country,” Barrasso said. “In Wyoming, hunting and fishing are a huge part of our way of life. I’m pleased we will now have expanded recreation access at a time where socially distant outdoor activities like hunting and fishing are more important than ever.”

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Bridger-Teton National Forest In Western Wyoming Implements Fire Restrictions

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Bridger-Teton National Forest in western Wyoming has implemented new fire restrictions beginning Thursday.

According to a news release, stage one fire restrictions are being implemented on all National Forest System lands within the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The restrictions allow fires only in designated and installed fire rings or grills at designated campgrounds or picnic areas.

The moisture content of various fuel types, current and expected weather conditions and available fire-fighting resources, as well as the occurrence of human-caused fires, are factors in the determination to implement fire restrictions on public lands, the release said.  

Under the restrictions, fires are allowed in the Teton and Gros Ventre Wilderness areas, but not the Bridger Wilderness. Smoking is also restricted to certain locations.

The restrictions include:

  • Lighting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, campfire, barbecue or grill is allowed only at designated recreation sites such as established campgrounds or picnic areas. Use of portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel, or use of a fully-enclosed sheepherder type stove with a spark arrester screen is permitted.
  • Smoking is allowed only in an enclosed vehicle, building (unless otherwise prohibited), developed recreation site, or while in an area at least 3 ft. in diameter that is barren or cleared of all flammable materials (i.e. parking lots, developed campsites, or locations surrounded by water).

Campfires in Grand Teton National Park are limited to designated and installed fire rings and/or grills. Campfires aren’t allowed on the National Elk Refuge.

Teton Interagency Fire managers are reminding the public that unattended or abandoned campfires can quickly escalate into wildfires. The fire danger for the area is high, and forecasts call for warm and dry conditions to persist for the remainder of August and beyond.

All campfires and warming fires should be attended to. So far, Teton Interagency Fire personnel have extinguished 168 unattended or abandoned campfires this summer.

During times of elevated fire danger, building campfires is discouraged. Visitors could be held liable for suppression costs if their campfire becomes a wildfire.

All campfires must be completely extinguished before leaving a site. Campers and day users should have a shovel on hand and a water bucket ready for use. A campfire should be “dead out” and cold to the touch before departing.

Violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization and/or by imprisonment for more than six months.

The public is encouraged to report illegal campfires, as well as smoke reports, to the Teton Interagency Fire Dispatch at 307-739-3630.  

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Climber Falls Into Grand Teton Ice Crevasse Over Weekend

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An Evanston man was rescued over the weekend by Grand Teton National Park staff after he fell into an ice crevasse.

The Teton Interagency Dispatch Center received a “fall into crevasse” notification from a satellite communication device around 10:30 p.m. Friday.

The message included some GPS coordinates that indicated the incident occurred near Teton Glacier. Despite additional attempts to establish two-way communication with the reporting party, no more information was provided.

Two park rangers began hiking to the glacier around 12:30 a.m. and located the injured party and his hiking party around 4 a.m. They also found another climbing party of two that was in the area and assisting with the injured climber.

Evanston resident Tyler Willis, 34, and his climbing partner had successfully summited Mount Owen earlier in the day. They were descending via the Koven Route and were crossing the Teton Glacier when Willis fell about 30 feet into a narrow ice crevasse.

Two other climbers in the area used their satellite communication device to call for help and then set anchors and used a rope raising system to extricate Willis from the crevasse.

Willis had been in the crevasse for more than an hour before the other party of two came on scene to assist. His condition had significantly deteriorated due to hypothermia and he was unresponsive.

After extricating Willis, the three climbers replaced his wet clothing with dry clothing.

When rangers arrived on scene, they provided medical care and began a re-warming treatment, including adding additional insulating layers to warm Willis.

Willis’ condition slowly improved over the next few hours.

 At approximately 8 a.m. Saturday, Willis was transported to Lupine Meadows via short haul rescue by the Teton Interagency Helicopter and he was then taken by Air Idaho Rescue to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The three other climbers were transported to Lupine Meadows by helicopter.

Short-haul is a rescue technique where an individual or individuals, often with gear, are suspended below a helicopter on a 150 to 250-foot rope. This method allows a rescuer more direct access to an injured party, and it is often used in the Teton Range where conditions make it difficult to land a helicopter in the steep and rocky terrain.

Teton Glacier is the largest of eleven glaciers in Grand Teton National Park. It is located below the north face of the Grand Teton and is approximately 50 acres in size.

Glaciers are dynamic and always moving. Anyone climbing near glaciers should always be very cautious and expect glacial features including crevasses.

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Wyoming State Parks On Track For Record Year For Visits

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

From the numbers seen by the Wyoming State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails staff so far this year, the state’s largest parks are on track to set a visitation record, according to Deputy Director Nick Neylon.

In an interview with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday, Neylon discussed the state’s reservation system for campsites in the parks and said a surprising number of state residents are taking advantage of the beautiful Wyoming recreation areas this summer.

While the July numbers weren’t available yet, Neylon said that early feedback shows the state’s largest parks with water (Glendo, Curt Gowdy, Boysen, Keyhole, Guernsey and Buffalo Bill) saw a 150% increase in attendance.

“I think we’re on pace to have a record year,” he said. “It’s been very hectic, very taxing on our staff. But people still want to recreate outdoors. It’s good for their physical, emotional and mental well-being.”

Many of those visitors came from within Wyoming, due largely to the fact that for a time earlier this year, out-of-state visitors were barred from purchasing day passes or reserving campsites, precautions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Since tourists couldn’t come into Wyoming, state residents decided to take advantage of the temporary downtime, Neylon said.

He also credited the state’s camping reservation system for the uptick in visitors, noting that although the reservation system was criticized by many Wyomingites at first, he’s heard much praise about it now.

“I’ve had people tell me they haven’t camped at Curt Gowdy for years because they could never get the spot they wanted,” he said. “There are still some people who don’t like the reservation system on principle, but overall, it’s been a huge success.”

Neylon added that beginning sometime in October, the parks staff will meet and discuss the positives and negatives of the reservation system, figuring out what can be improved or what should be removed.

One improvement the staff plans to make in the system soon is to add the ability to purchase day use passes on the WyoParks website. Currently, only annual passes can be purchased.

The reservation fee will also be changed soon. Until now, the fee has been $7.75 per person, which is pocketed by the reservation company, but soon the fee will be $8 for out-of-state campers and $4 for in-state visitors, Neylon said.

“I think people have come to like the reservation system more because now they can take comfort in knowing they will have a spot when they get to the site, they won’t have to spend time driving around, hunting for one,” Neylon said. “The important point is that the system, statewide, worked as we hoped it would.”

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