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2020 Was Grand Teton National Park’s Fourth-Best Year In History

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Grand Teton National Park had one of its best years for visitation in recorded history last year, despite the fact the coronavirus pandemic forced its closure for nearly two months.

The park hosted 3,289,639 visits last year, 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 related to the pandemic.

Compared to 2019, total recreation visits decreased by only 3.4%, despite the pandemic. 

“National parks and public lands were extremely important to everyone this past year, providing fresh air, open space and respite from the pandemic. We anticipate that we will see continued high interest in visiting Grand Teton National Park,” park superintendent Chip Jenkins said.

The top five years for recreation visits in Grand Teton National Park are:

  • 2018                  3,491,151
  • 2019                  3,405,614
  • 2017                  3,317,000
  • 2020                  3,289,639
  • 2016                  3,270,076

Always ranked among the top 10 national parks for recreation visits, Grand Teton National Park was the fifth highest for visitation in 2020, moving up from eighth in 2019. In 2020, the National Park Service recorded 237 million recreation visits at all of its parks, down more than 90 million visits (27.6%) from 2019.

Yellowstone National Park had an estimated 3,806,306 recreation visits and moved from sixth place in 2019 to second place in 2020 – a place it has not held since 1947.

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New Public Roadway In Sublette Range Will Allow Access to 33K Acres of Land

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A new public road being installed this summer will allow people access to more than 32,900 acres of public land in the Sublette Mountain range in western Wyoming.

The agreement, targeted to take effect in the summer, will create a permanent public roadway and a parking area linked to the Groo Canyon trail from Highway 30 north of Cokeville near the Wyoming-Idaho border.

Once finalized, the new entry point will allow access across private ranchland to lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management known as the Raymond Mountain Wilderness Study Area and additional state and federal lands beyond that.

“Creating and improving public access is key to who we are as an organization and our mission,” said Kyle Weaver, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO. “There is currently limited access to the west side of the Sublette Range. This action will change that.”

Historically, elk management has been particularly difficult in the Sublette Range because of limited public access. The new agreement will allow improved hunter access and opportunity, thus allowing the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to better attain population management objectives for elk, deer, moose, mountain lions and black bears.

“As the Wyoming Game and Fish Department evaluates and pursues access projects, we look for opportunities that will have a substantial positive impact for our constituents and we feel the Raymond Mountain Public Access Area will provide that,” said Sean Bibbey, Game and Fish lands branch chief. “The department looks forward to developing this area for use by the public in the coming year and we want to thank RMEF and the other partners on this project for their hard work and support to make this opportunity happen.”

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Yellowstone Snowmobile Guides Say Season Is Busiest Ever

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park is a popular tourist destination for people around the globe, especially in summer. But in winter, the scenery – and the sounds – are quite different.

Gary and Dede Fales have run a hunting guide business for over 25 years, and part of their operation is renting out – and guiding – snowmobile tours during the winter months; they are the only licensed snowmobile guides in Cody. 

The Fales have two guides that work for them and can take up to 13 snowmobiles into the park each day – either to Old Faithful and West Yellowstone for an overnight stay, or for a day trip to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and occasionally up to Chico Hot Springs in Montana. Dede said this year is the busiest ever.

“People are learning about us more, they know they can go in the east entrance, it’s a beautiful way to go in,” she said. “The south entrance and the west entrance, for the most part, there are winter wonderlands over there, and so they have a big winter season for skiing – especially the south entrance. But snowmobiling is really big in West Yellowstone, and they fill up very quickly, they’re sort of hubs for skiing and snowmobiling. So we have people calling, saying … ‘I’m at West Yellowstone, how long does it take to get there to go on a snowmobile trip?’”

Because of the pandemic, outdoor recreation has gained popularity – and both Gary and Dede say that’s been a boost for them this winter.

“They can’t go to Europe very easy, or Mexico, so everybody’s vacationing in the United States,” said Gary. “And there’s a lot of people out here looking around, plus there’s a lot of people wanting to buy property out here, so this is a good experience for them while they’re out looking for land.”

“There are a lot of people in Cody who have come to get away from the city, where they’re locked down,” Dede added. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who are in Cody for a month, renting a house, children aren’t in school so they’re learning remotely, and they’re able to work remotely, and they’re looking for things to do outside.”

And Dede pointed out that this year, the winter season has been extended two weeks beyond the closing date that the east entrance has observed for the last 13 years.

Back in 2008, the National Park Service determined that Sylvan Pass, which must be crossed in order to access the park from the east entrance, was too dangerous at certain points in the season due to the possibility of avalanches. 

But mitigation efforts have been successful and beginning this year, the Park Service is allowing the east entrance to open one week earlier and close one week later — meaning it is open the same number of days as the other entrances. And that’s a big deal for the Fales’ business.

“So we open the 15th instead of the 22nd of December now, and we get to stay open through the 15th of March, which is huge,” Dede said. That’s really nice. And so many people want to go in the Park in March, and they haven’t been able to from the east entrance. So now they’re able to.”

Dede pointed out that you don’t have to go with a guide, you could just rent a snowmobile from them, but she said that those opportunities are much more limited.

Because park regulations limit snowmobiles in the park to those with the “Best Available Technology” – meaning they must have low emissions, low noise and less impact on the environment – access to Yellowstone in winter is much more restricted than it used to be.

“They have a very short list of the snowmobiles that you’re able to take in the park, and most people don’t own those because they’re just touring machines,” Dede noted. “So now you have to go in with an outfitter, or rent a snowmobile from us that’s allowed in the park.”

For several years, snowmobile access to Yellowstone was limited to guided tours only – but since 2017, permits have become available for unguided snowmobile access, although Park Service regulations state that only one group of up to five snowmobiles can enter the park from each of its four winter entrances per day.

However, Dede said that restriction is actually a bonus for them.

“It has helped our business, because it’s just another group that doesn’t want to go with a guide, that want to go on their own, that’s coming to us to rent snowmobiles,” she said. “You know, it’s nice, because all of these people that want to be in the park, don’t want a guide, can now go on their own.”

Winter in Yellowstone really is a magical experience, and the Fales say that’s what draws people year after year.

“To be on a snowmobile and drive right over the pass and into the park and along the river, right by the animals is a unique experience,” Dede said.

“Yellowstone is a pristine place,” Gary added. “It’s got all the history, and the beautiful country and lakes, and – you know, you get up there in the morning just as the sun’s hitting the top of those mountains and it’s really nice.”

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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.

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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