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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:

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

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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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Conde Nast Traveler Names Curt Gowdy “Best State Park In Wyoming”

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A travel magazine has declared Curt Gowdy State Park as Wyoming’s best.

Conde Nast Traveler, a luxury lifestyle and travel magazine, recently published its list of the best state parks in all 50 states, and Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming was named as the state’s best offering.

“Visitors looking for a more relaxed adventure can float onto one of the park’s three reservoirs or hang out in one of its twelve developed campgrounds,” the magazine said. “Perfectly positioned between Cheyenne and Fort Laramie, Curt Gowdy was recently labeled as ‘epic’ by the International Mountain Biking Association, with over 35 miles of well-marked trails that both bikers and hikers are free to explore.”

The park covers nearly 4,000 acres in Laramie and Albany counties.

Curt Gowdy State Park was established in 1971, but was originally called Granite State Park. It was renamed after sportscaster and Wyoming native Curt Gowdy, who was born in Green River and began his career in Cheyenne.

The park sees tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Wyoming has a total of 12 state parks, including Curt Gowdy.

Other parks on the Conde Nast list included Colorado’s State Forest State Park (which is a totally not weird name), Nebraska’s Smith Falls State Park, South Dakota’s Custer State Park and Montana’s Makoshika State Park.

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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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