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Yellowstone, Grand Teton Officially Have Busiest First Quarter Ever

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The claims that both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are seeing more visitors than ever before this summer have been confirmed by a state report.

A report on the economic indicators for the first quarter of 2021 issued by the Wyoming Departmetn of Administration and Information shows tourism numbers have skyrocketed in the state this year compared to 2020.

Both parks saw more than a 20% increase in visitations through March of 2021, with Yellowstone seeing 107,846 visitors in the first quarter (up 20.7% compared to last year) and Grand Teton seeing 194,447 visitors (up 22.8% compared to last year).

“Visitation figures for both national parks were the highest recorded for the first quarter in history,” the report said, noting that this was attributed to people wanting to spend time outdoors during the pandemic, while coronavirus cases also trended downward.

Lodging sales in Teton County were up 27.9% compared to last year and up 16.4% for the state as a whole.

According to a National Park Service report, more than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million.

Overall, about 7.1 million people visited all the national parks in Wyoming in 2020, spending an estimated $859 million in “gateway” regions, communities within 60 miles of a national park.

This spending supported a total of 11,300 jobs, generating $333 million in labor income $604 million in “value added” — the difference between the production cost of an item and its sale price — and $1 billion in economic output in the Wyoming economy.

The majority of these jobs were divided among restaurants, lodging and “secondary effect” businesses.

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Colorado Parks Staff Catch Man Dumping Human Waste, Make Him Clean It Up

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

We shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t dump (pun intended) human or any other type of waste in streams, lakes or other public bodies of water. It’s gross.

But a man in Colorado was busted doing exactly this on Monday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff.

“This man was caught dumping bags of human waste from his camp latrine in a high mountain stream,” said a tweet from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northeast office. “Charges were filed for littering public lands after wildlife officer Joe Nicholson supervised him cleaning up the waste.”

The post included two photos, one showing the man in question (although from behind) while he was cleaning up trash in a stream, which is a part of Clear Creek not far outside of Denver.

A follow-up post from the department said that Nicholson wanted to remind people who were camping or recreating in the Clear Creek area and other wildlife spots, to not use natural landscapes or water as a toilet or personal dump.

The man cited received a court summons and a judge will decide the fine for dumping waste in the stream.

According to the National Park Service, people recreating outdoors should use park toilet facilities when possible. Otherwise, they should deposit solid human waste in holes dug six to eight inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. The holes should be covered and disguised when finished.

People should pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

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Gordon Dedicating $6M For Wyoming Parks, Historic Sites

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Up to $6.5 million of Wyoming’s remaining CARES Act funds will be used to fund expansions at Wyoming’s state parks and historic sites, Gov. Mark Gordon has announced.

This money will be used to add camping facilities to allow more visitors to spend more time outside, boosting the state’s tourism industry and addressing park overcrowding caused by the pandemic, Gordon said.

“Expanding outdoor recreation opportunities will benefit the state, and will provide an immediate return on investment,” Gordon said. “The public appreciated the fact that our parks remained open last year, providing a healthy option to relieve the stress of the pandemic. Strengthening our state park system is important to Wyoming’s long-term economic health as well.”

The funds will be used to increase overnight camping capacity at the state’s parks by 18% to meet the significant increase in demand Wyoming state parks have seen since 2020. A portion of the funds will also be used to expand day-use areas and add picnic shelters and parking space.

Wyoming state parks saw a 36% increase in visitation in 2020, which translated to more than 1.4 million additional visitors. Visitors exceeded capacity limits at most sites. 

“As Wyoming continues to be a top outdoor destination for tourists, we are seeing campsites, lodging and other amenities nearly booked for the summer, especially throughout state parks,” said Diane Shober, executive director for the Wyoming Office of Tourism. “This is a great opportunity to meet summer travel demand while continuing to offer visitors and residents alike a memorable outdoor adventure.”

Wyoming state parks produce an annual economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion, according to the preliminary draft of an economic impact study from the University of Wyoming. 

The increase in visitation seen last year is expected to continue in 2021 based on this season’s campsite reservations.

State Parks Director Darin Westby emphasized that the additional campsites and added day-use facilities will be added quickly to the parks to provide additional opportunities to visitors this summer. These facilities may initially be temporary, but will continue to be improved upon as additional funds become available. 

“We have an amazing team and they are excited and working very hard to offer these additional campsites, developed to get people outdoors and recreating to help achieve the agency’s mission of impacting communities and enhancing lives” Westby said.   

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Yellowstone, Grand Teton Tourism Supports 11K Jobs, Creates $800M In Spending

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

More than 3.8 million people visited Yellowstone National Park last year and spent more than $444 million in communities near the park, according to a new National Park Service report.

That spending supported 6,110 jobs in the area near Yellowstone, which had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $560 million, according to the report.

The spending analysis was conducted by economists with the NPS and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Overall, about 7.1 million people visited national parks in Wyoming and spent an estimated $859 million in “gateway” regions, communities within 60 miles of a national park.

While this is the lowest amount of spending Wyoming has seen since 2014, national parks were closed for nearly two months in 2020, from mid-March to mid-May, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This spending supported a total of 11,300 jobs, generating $333 million in labor income $604 million in “value added” — the difference between the production cost of an item and its sale price — and $1 billion in economic output in the Wyoming economy. The majority of these jobs were divided among restaurants, lodging and “secondary effect” businesses.

The lodging sector had the highest amount of spending, with $310 million. Restaurants followed, making $151 million last year.

The lowest amount of tourism spending went to camping, just under $33 million.

Nationally, the report showed that $14.5 billion was spent by more than 237 million park visitors across the U.S. This spending supported 234,000 jobs nationally, and 194,400 of those jobs were found in gateway communities. The nation’s cumulative economic benefit was $28.6 billion.

In 2019, Wyoming saw $924 million in visitor spending. However, last year’s economic output was comparable to years prior, down by just $1 million compared to 2017 through 2019.

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Yellowstone Visits Up By 50% On Memorial Day From 2019

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Continuing towards what officials are predicting will be a record year for visitor numbers, Yellowstone National Park saw a 50% increase in visitors over Memorial Day weekend this year compared to 2019.

From May 28 to May 31, the park saw 43,416 vehicles come through. Visitation on all four days individually increased over the same time period in 2019, but the best day was May 28, with an 80% increase compared to two years before.

The most vehicles went through the north, south and west gates.

In 2019, the park saw 28,890 vehicles over Memorial Day weekend.

Figures from 2019 are the most recent available, as not all of the park’s gates were open during Memorial Day weekend of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Visits to Yellowstone since it reopened to the public last summer have regularly been exceeding averages, with the park reporting multiple times last year that it had some of its best months on record.

According to Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which operates the lodging and restaurant properties in Yellowstone, Americans are going to be flocking to the park this summer.

“Domestic demand has increased because of circumstances and from where I sit, demand for trips to Yellowstone is as high as ever,” he previously told Cowboy State Daily. “I think it’s safe to say, (American travelers have) offset any international demand that’s not there now.”

Justin Walters of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce said lodging properties in the area are already booked for the entire summer. And he added that a shortage of rental cars has visitors driving all the way to Salt Lake City to meet their transportation needs.

Last year was a record-breaker for the entire state in terms of visitation, with parking lots overflowing and campsites booked solid as people sought respite from strict lockdowns in other states.

Gary Schoene, public information office manager for Wyoming State Parks, said park officials don’t know if this year will be quite as busy, but officials are expecting plenty of visitors.

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Yellowstone Could Have Record Year Despite Loss of 1 Million International Tourists

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As restrictions imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus begin to relax, changes are being seen across the country.

People can travel. Choirs can sing. Tour buses can take full loads of visitors to places like Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.

But experts in the state’s hospitality industry are noticing a difference in who is traveling this year — they are all Americans.

Hospitality ventures in Wyoming such as hotels and restaurants have always expected a portion of their summer business to come from international tourists.

But not this year.

“You know, two years ago, before the whole COVID thing started happening, we were seeing right at 1 million internationals — Asian communities specifically — coming to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton area,” says Justin Walters at the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

Tourists from Asian countries make up a large portion of the international presence in the communities surrounding Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. A report compiled by the National Park Service in 2016 showed that international visitors that year were from 25 countries and comprised 17% of total visitation to the park, estimated at 4.25 million.

European visitors accounted for 49% of the international traffic, 34% came from China and 10% came from Canada.

So the absence of those international visitors is felt, especially by small businesses who have come to rely on tour buses filled with foreign travelers.

China Town Buffet in Cody is one of the businesses that are magnets for the Asian tour buses, with the majority of those buses carrying Chinese citizens. In a post-COVID world, those buses are not in the picture this year, according to Shu Fang, a spokeswoman for the restaurant.

“Every day, I would have buses, sometimes I have three buses, sometimes four buses a day,” she said. Usually, Shu said, buses start arriving in May and go through September.

But not this year.

That doesn’t mean that China Town is deserted, by any means, she added.

“I mean like, we still operate the business,” she said. “We have tourists from our country, traveling, but we just don’t have Chinese buses. And so we’re really making less money.”

However, according to Rick Hoeninghausen with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which operates the lodging and restaurant properties in Yellowstone, Americans this summer are more than making up for the lack of international visitors.

“Domestic demand has increased because of circumstances and from where I sit, demand for trips to Yellowstone is as high as ever,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say, (American travelers have) offset any international demand that’s not there now.”

And Walters pointed out the lack of international tourists is in some ways a blessing, given the labor shortage affecting Jackson and other tourism communities.

“We just went through a big email chain of how stressed the community already is worker-wise,” he said. “I mean, no one’s willing to work, we do not have housing for the workers, and restaurants, hotels, all these businesses are very, very much overrun with tourism already. I’m not saying we don’t want it, but the thing is, there’s got to be that balance.” 

Walters said lodging properties in the area are already booked for the entire summer. And he added that a shortage of rental cars has visitors driving all the way to Salt Lake City to meet their transportation needs.

“Even our outlier communities are getting pressure – campgrounds within 80 miles of us are full that really never had filled before,” he explains. 

In a community expecting close to 5 million visitors — without Asian and other international tourists — Walters said this tourist season could put a strain on the hospitality industry.

“I would be scared to death to see what would happen if you add another million on top of what’s already coming,” he said. 

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Grand Teton Saw Busiest April on Record

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grand Teton National Park saw its busiest April in recorded history this year, with 87,739 recreation visits last month.

This is a 48% increase over figures from April 2019, the most recent available because of the park’s closure last April due to the coronavirus.

The list below shows April recreation visits over the last several years:
2021—87,739
2020—Closed
2019—59,105
2018—60,541
2017—58,403

Park staff are working to provide quality visitor experiences in the face of what officials predict will be a busy summer season.

Despite last year’s closure through the spring, the park hosted 3,289,639 visits in 2020, the fourth highest number of recreation visits for one year in the park’s history, according to the National Park Service. The park was closed from March 24 to May 18 due to health and safety concerns.

Compared to 2019, total recreation visits for the year declined by only 3.4%.

Visitors to the park are highly encouraged to plan ahead and recreate responsibly in order to make the most of their visit and to help ensure this iconic landscape may be enjoyed by future generations.

Park employees will also collect data and conduct visitation studies to better understand changing visitation trends in the park.

Consistent with CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks inside park facilities or outdoors. A person is considered fully vaccinated at least two weeks after receiving the final dose of the vaccine.

Those who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible.

Visitors to Grand Teton are encouraged to “do your part” and recreate responsibly. Visitors are also encouraged to know they will have a place to stay overnight upon arrival. Reservations are required for all park campgrounds and can be booked on Recreation.gov.

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Barrasso Introduces Bill Allowing People to Share Videos of Public Lands On Social Media

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso introduced a bill this week that would allow people to share videos recorded on public lands on social media, something they’re not technically allowed to do at this point.

The legislation, the Federal Interior Land Media Act, is intended to modernize film permitting on public lands in order to keep pace with changing technology and social media, Barrasso said. It also eliminates burdensome and unnecessary regulations.

“Wyoming is home to some of the most beautiful national parks and public lands in the country. Americans should be able to fully enjoy them and share their experiences,” said Barrasso, who introduced the legislation Thursday. “The FILM Act will streamline the permitting process for filming on public lands. It gives outdoorsmen and women the ability to share their adventures without having to deal with burdensome red tape. The FILM Act allows Americans across the nation to experience all that Wyoming has to offer.” 

Commercial film and photographic activities on federal public lands now requires specific permits and fees and technically, by sharing photos on social media, the people who record videos on public land without obtaining a permit can be subject to punishment.

Barrasso’s bill would exempt certain video, digital and audio recording activities from fees and permitting, put uniform rules for such activities in place across all federal lands and streamline permit processing, when permits are considered necessary.

It would specifies that fees are not be required for commercial or non-commercial content creation, regardless of the distribution platform, as long as the filming takes place at a location where the public is allowed, complies with rules and laws, is conducted in a manner that doesn’t disturb wildlife or other visitors and involves groups of fewer than 10.

Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, praised Barrasso’s work in introducing the act.

“We live in an age when people from all walks of life can share their adventure stories in a virtual environment,” she said. “The FILM Act will guarantee that the people who visit Wyoming’s parks and public lands can record and share their stories online and through social media without asking the government for permission. I feel like this is a really good bill and will bring us forward to the 21st century.”

Grand Teton, National Park Service Restoring Mormon Row, Pink House

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The National Park Service and the Grand Teton National Park Foundation are joining forces to preserve and stabilize a historic property on Mormon Row inside of the park.

The John Moulton property, including the “Pink House,” will be closed to the public from now until mid-summer due to preservation activities.

The project will include structural foundation work to stabilize the Pink House and its iconic stucco, serving to improve the visitor experience through preservation of this important historic landscape.

Preservation and conservation professionals completed analyses of the building’s condition recently and concluded that preservation efforts should begin soon.

Specialists with the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center will be responsible for the temporary removal, documentation and storage of the building’s stucco skirt and brick chimney. A contractor will move the building off its existing foundation, pour a new foundation and then reattach the structure.

Additional preservation on the homestead, including a full stucco preservation project, roof replacement and rebuilding of the chimney, will occur over the next several years.

The Pink House is a 1.5-story historic home constructed in 1938. It retains a high level of historic integrity with original doors, windows, cabinetry, wallpaper, flooring and woodwork.

The house is surrounded by a historic barn, bunkhouse, several other outbuildings and cultural landscape elements including irrigation ditches, corrals and fencing.

Work at the Pink House marks the beginning of a multi-year public-private partnership project between the National Park Service and Grand Teton National Park Foundation to preserve the entire Mormon Row Historic District.

The multimillion dollar effort will address preservation needs and improve the ways visitors learn about the legacy of the district.

In 2018, the foundation was instrumental in efforts by the National Park Service acquiring a 1-acre parcel, the last privately held land along Mormon Row. The structures on the property are being used for park seasonal employee housing.

Improved visitor services, such as a pedestrian connection between properties on Mormon Row, walkway, toilet and additional parking, was constructed in 2016.

The Mormon Row Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. It offers visitors an opportunity to connect with the history of the park and understand the difficulty and isolation associated with historic settlement in Jackson Hole, as well as experience the scenic beauty of the Tetons.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, established homesteads east of Blacktail Butte beginning in the 1890s. The community of Grovont was created, today known as Mormon Row. The homesteaders clustered their farms to share labor and build community, a stark contrast with isolation typical of many western homesteads.

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Grand Teton Opening Facilities For Summer

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grand Teton National Park is beginning to open its seasonally-operated facilities for the summer season.

The park is working to protect employee and visitor health while meeting the National Park Service mission of providing for visitors and protecting park resources, officials said. Most visitor facilities and services will be open with restrictions to limit the number of people in the areas and provide for social distancing.

The Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center will open for the season on Saturday and will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Teton Park Road and Moose-Wilson Road will also open to vehicles on Saturday.

The Colter Bay Visitor Center will open May 7 and will also operate 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Grand Teton is implementing preventive measures and mitigation actions to reduce the spread of infectious disease. The park is working with federal, state, and local public health authorities to closely monitor the coronavirus pandemic and will adjust operations as needed.

Park visitor centers will be open with limited capacity visitor services. The park is also working in collaboration with concession operators to safely provide visitor services for the 2021 season.

Visitors are encouraged to plan ahead and prepare for upcoming summer trips to the park. They are also encouraged to do their part and recreate responsibly.

How to recreate responsibly in Grand Teton:

  • Plan ahead and know you will have a place to stay overnight. Reservations are required for all campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park. Camping in the park is only allowed in designated sites within designated campgrounds. Camping is not permitted along roadsides, at overlooks, pullouts, trailheads or other parking areas.
  • Park visitors will be responsible to take preventive actions as they enjoy the park. To protect the health of those who live, work, and visit national parks and facilities, face masks are required in all National Park Service buildings and facilities. Masks are also required on National Park Service-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as hiking trails, overlooks, and parking areas.
  • Black and grizzly bears are active in Grand Teton, including in developed areas. Be alert, make noise when hiking, hike in groups of three or more and carry bear spray and know how to use it. Federal regulations require that you stay at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves and 25 yards away from all other wildlife. View wildlife through a telephoto lens, spotting scope, or a pair of binoculars. Give wildlife room, use your zoom. Food storage is required. All food, garbage, pet food, coolers, food containers (empty or full) and cookware (clean or dirty) must be stored in a hard-sided vehicle with the windows rolled up or in a bear-resistant food locker when not in immediate use.
  • Dispose of trash properly. Follow Leave No Trace principles by packing out what you bring in, including all trash, masks, and left-over food. Recycling is available throughout the park.
  • Dogs are not permitted on trails, pathways or inside visitor centers. In addition, dogs are prohibited from swimming in any park waters. Dog owners are required to use a leash no longer than six feet in length and are required to clean up after their dogs. A good rule of thumb is that a pet may go anywhere a car may go including roads, road shoulders, campgrounds, picnic areas and parking lots.
  • Help prevent wildfires. Campfires are limited to designated and installed fire rings and/or grills. All campfires should always be attended to. 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. Soak, stir, feel, repeat. Make sure your campfire is “dead out” and cold to the touch before departing.
  • Slow down and be vigilant while driving in the park, especially at dawn, dusk and at night when visibility is reduced. Wildlife is often active near park roadways and can cross the roads unexpectedly. Give wildlife a brake. Obey posted speed limits and maintain a safe following distance from other vehicles.

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