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Yellowstone Continues Breaking Records, Sees Best May Ever In 2021

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park continued to see massive amount of visitors in a record-setting May capped by a a Memorial Day holiday that saw visits increase by 50% over two years ago.

The park saw 483,159 visits during May, an increase of 11% from May 2019, which saw 434,385 visits.

Because the park was closed in 2020 from mid-March until May 18 because of the coronavirus pandemic, its visits through the first five months of that year totaled only 145,849.

In contrast, through May of this year, the park has seen 658,513 visitors come through the gates, an increase of 14% compared to 2019.

This week, park officials reported a successful Memorial Day weekend, with visits up 50% compared to 2019. From May 28 to May 31, the park saw 43,416 vehicles come through. In 2019, the park saw 28,890 vehicles over Memorial Day weekend.

Visitation on each of the four days of the holiday weekend increased over the same time period in 2019, but the best day was May 28, with an 80% increase compared to two years before.

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.

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Wyoming Park Rangers Track Down Michigan Man Who Ventured Too Close to Old Faithful

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It is 2,488 miles from Old Faithful in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park to Madison, Maine. One would think that would be a safe distance for a Michigan resident seeking to avoid a Wyoming court appearance.

And this might be true if any normal law enforcement agency were involved. But not for the intrepid agents of the National Park Service.

A Michigan man learned that lesson the hard way when he was arrested earlier this week in connection with a charge he ventured too close to Old Faithful last summer.

Like the man who selected Yellowstone as the perfect location for a golf shot, Aaron Merritt learned firsthand of the tenacity of the Park Service.

It’s a lesson the Park Service applies with vigor when it sees flagrant violations of the rules that make the country’s national parks special places, said Rob Wallace, who until January oversaw the National Park Service as the assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

“When people show up and do these crazy stunts and then advertise them, they’re basically flaunting what national parks are about, and perhaps encouraging other followers on social media, to one up and do something even more, you know, crazy or stupid or dangerous,” Wallace told Cowboy State Daily. “So I think the Park Service is selective about what they decide to pursue. But in cases that are pretty egregious, they want to discourage that kind of use.”

Merritt was cited for thermal trespassing after allegedly walked too close to Old Faithful on July 7, 2020.

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Merritt was wearing a raccoon fur cap and carrying an American flag when he allegedly stepped off the boardwalk at the park. He was 50 feet off the path and approaching the backside of the geyser when a park ranger called him back. Merritt was cited, and scheduled to appear in federal court two weeks later.

But he skipped out — so a warrant was issued for his arrest.

And on Monday of this week, the Michigan resident (who has since garnered a few facial tattoos) appeared remotely before a federal judge from the Somerset County Jail in East Madison, Maine.

Merritt is not the only person to face park justice. Jake Adams, a comedian who thought he could increase his social media following by hitting a golf ball in all 50 states, is now under investigation for hitting one near Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring.

Wallace said special laws are in place to protect the country’s national parks and the federal government takes violations of those laws seriously.

“There’s different rules in a national park from a state park or BLM land,” he said. “You can’t take driftwood out of the park, you can’t grab a handful of flowers and take, take them apart, you can’t throw coins in the Grand Prismatic pond, for obvious reasons of corrosion.”

Wallace said it has been relatively easy to find such offenders when they speak about their exploits on social media.

“When they post their exploits on social media, that right away suggests how to find these people,” he said. “They leave clues all over the internet about what they’re doing, and it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out how to track them down.”

He added that the public plays a part in apprehending offenders as well.

“When you see reports from people that are doing things that are clearly out of balance, the public is pretty good in terms of grabbing a license plate number, taking a video, reporting it to the nearest ranger,” Wallace said. “So there’s lots of ways that information comes in. And in certain cases, the Park Service or the U.S. Attorney’s office looks at something and says, ‘That is so problematic that we’ve got to pursue this further.’”

Wallace adds that the Park Service’s relationships with other government agencies helps the process.

“The Park Service works very closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, because they are a federal agency,” he said, “and the U.S. Attorney, whether it’s in Wyoming or Maine, represents the interests of the Park Service, and looks at these cases, and makes a decision whether to take them or not.”

And when someone flaunts the rules and then disregards the consequences, Wallace says they just might find a U.S. Marshal at their door.

“They show up at their door, or they contact people and say ‘You’re in violation,’ and quite often people will cooperate,” he says. “A lot of it is ignorance. People don’t know what they don’t know. But then when they decide to put that ignorance in full display on social media, it catches people’s attention.”

“If people are smart and they are caught, they would likely agree to come back and appear before a magistrate and take their medicine,” he added.

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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 To Be Overhauled With “Outdoors Act” Changes

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Improvements at Yellowstone National Park are scheduled for the coming year with the freeing up of money under the Great American Outdoors Act.

While the act setting aside $1.9 billion per year for improvements at national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and rangelands was initially signed by former President Donald Trump, he put restrictions on how the money could be spent late last year. President Joe Biden recently removed the restrictions, allowing the projects to move forward.

Some of the money will be used to pay for a number of improvements at Yellowstone, with nearly $100 million earmarked for projects including replacement of the Yellowstone River Bridge, an upgrade of the wastewater treatment system at Old Faithful Geyser, replacement of the Mammoth wastewater collection system and replacement of the wastewater treatment plants serving the Canyon and Grant Village developed areas, according to the project list.

Yellowstone sees millions of visitors every summer from all over the world. Even in 2020, despite the COVID pandemic, Yellowstone only saw a slight dip in visitor numbers, even though the pandemic forced the park’s closure for two months.

The Great American Outdoors Act also provided funds to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which will also conduct improvement projects in Wyoming including repairs to three high hazard dams located across the state in the next fiscal year.

The Associated Press reported that the Biden administration said the investments are consistent with and help advance its “America the Beautiful” initiative, a decade-long conservation effort that aims to protect nearly one-third of America’s lands and waters by 2030.

“One of the best investments we can make is in stewarding the lands and waters that sustain us and the generations to come,″ Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Today we are making critical investments that will create tens of thousands of jobs, safeguard the environment and help ensure that national parks and public lands are ready to meet the challenges of climate change and increased visitation.″

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Science TV Show: If Yellowstone Blew Up, We’d Die, $3 Trillion In Damages Caused

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A video predicting what would happen if Yellowstone National Park’s “supervolcano” erupted today has generated more than 1 million views for a popular TV show and YouTube channel.

The TV show “RealLifeLore”, which boasts more than 4 million subscribers on YouTube, tackled the topic of Yellowstone’s volcano exploding and what will happen when that happens.

Just so we’re clear, scientists have repeatedly said that the caldera isn’t going to erupt for another 100,000 years at least.

In its video, RealLifeLore explained the timeline of Yellowstone’s major volcanic eruptions, the last of which occurred around 174,000 years ago, creating what is now the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake.

There have been 60 smaller eruptions since, the last of which occurred around 70,000 years ago.

“Before any massive eruption would take place, it would very likely be preceded by a huge amount of seismic activity, basically a warning sign that something really bad was about to happen,” RealLifeLore said in the video.

Seismologists have theorized that there will be a number of large earthquakes occurring before any major eruption in the park.

The pressure in the caldera would continue to build until magma exploded through the ground “in a cataclysmic eruption,” with debris being launched as high as 14 miles into the air. The lava would overtake anything within a 40-mile radius from the epicenter, burning everything in its path.

Debris from the lava exploding from the ground would be shot into the air, with more than 600 square miles of material being ejected into the sky, creating an umbrella cloud and darkening the skies over North America.

“This cloud would rain down toxic volcanic ash across the entire mainland United States,” RealLifeLore said. “Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Utah will, however, experience the most significant devastation.”

The video added we’d be buried under up to 3 feet of hot, toxic ash, which sounds way worse than the blizzard we complained so much about in March.

Humans, plants and animals would be killed by the ash, and buildings would be destroyed by the density of the ash deposits. Farmlands, roads and water would all be affected by the ash from the volcano.

“What could be even worse, the ash would likely wipe out the entire Midwest’s crop of corn and soybeans and even poison the farmland for a generation,” RealLifeLore said.

The caldera’s eruption could possibly cool down the entire globe’s temperature by 10 degrees for a decade, which would cause a global catastrophe. The video also noted that a federal report said that a disaster like this occurring in Yellowstone would cause $3 trillion in damages.

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Hiker Injured By Bear In Yellowstone, First Incident of 2021

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A man was attacked Friday morning by a bear while hiking in Yellowstone National Park, according to park officials.

Park officials said the unidentified 39-year-old man was attacked while hiking alone on the Beaver Ponds Trail at Mammoth Hot Springs. The incident occurred around 1.5 miles from the trailhead that originates from the Old Gardiner Road.

The man told park officials he was hiking when he encountered what he believed to be two grizzly bears. One attacked him and he sustained significant injuries to his lower extremities, but was able to hike out on his own.

The hiker was transported to the Livingston, Montana, Hospital by park ambulance.

The Beaver Ponds Trail was closed until further notice. Bear management staff swept the trail Friday morning to ensure no hikers were on it.

Park officials are advising those hiking in Yellowstone to stay at least 100 yards away from bears at all times and carry bear spray.

The last bear-human conflict in the park occurred in June 2020, when a grizzly knocked a woman to the ground and scratched her thigh.

The woman was hiking alone when she encountered two grizzlies at close range. The female bear knocked her down despite the woman’s attempt to use bear spray.

When the woman fell, she also received minor injuries to her face. She declined medical attention.

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Scientist: Yellowstone Super Volcano Will Erupt Again And Likely Destroy U.S.

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s like going in the doctor’s office and being asked: “What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news?”

That’s what scientists can offer when talking about the giant super volcano under Yellowstone National Park.

The bad news is that the super volcano will erupt and will likely destroy much of the United States. 

The good news is it isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Michael Poland, the scientist-in-charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, told AccuWeather last week that the volcano located under the park has erupted at least three times in the past and would “devastate much of the United States” when it erupts again.

The timeframe for such an eruption, however, is such that Americans don’t have to start immediately packing their bags for Antarctica, Mars, or anywhere else. We’ve got some time, he said.

How to know when to start panicking? More seismic activity. A lot more.

Right now, there are between 1,500 and 2,500 earthquakes per year in Yellowstone. Once that number goes up, worrying can follow.

“If we saw earthquake activity begin to pick up in very significant ways,” Poland said. “Instead of seeing thousands of earthquakes every year we would see tens of thousands.”

Plus, there would be deformation in the ground at Yellowstone, he said. That means there would be a noticeable change in elevation. Right now, it moves between 1 and 2 inches per year.

“If it were to suddenly start rising very quickly, that might be another indicator,” Poland said.

But he’s not worried about it.

“There’s no indication that the Yellowstone magmatic system is really going to be waking up anytime soon,” he said.

That’s good news as Yellowstone National Park is expecting a record year for visitation in 2021 and an eruption would likely put a dent in it.

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Tourist Season Begins: Woman Charged By Grizzly Bear In Yellowstone

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It might be still winter-like in some parts of Wyoming, but summer has officially arrived at Yellowstone National Park with the season’s first encounter between a park visitor and a grizzly bear.

Thankfully it didn’t go nearly as badly as it could have, but still, why do people keep getting so close to wild animals? Is the close-up video that worth it? Did you not watch “Grizzly Man?”

A video shared by NBC Montana shows a woman recording three grizzly bears at a relatively short distance. As the bears run around, one charges toward her, causing her to put her phone down and walk back toward her vehicle.

“Darcie Addington took this from the safety of her vehicle,” the tweet by the TV station said. “She doesn’t know the other woman, but says several people warned her. Remember to give bears at least 100 yards of space.”

According to the National Park Service, a bluff charge is the more common type of charge and is meant to scare or intimidate. If a bluff charge is about to happen, a person is supposed to slowly back away from the bear while waving their arms above their head and speaking to the bear in a calm voice.

People should not run when a bear bluff charges, because it may trigger the animal to attack.

Late last month, a woman near Durango, Colorado was mauled and killed by a black bear when she was out walking her dogs.

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Report: Yellowstone Had More Than 1,700 Earthquakes In 2020

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Yellowstone National Park’s seismic activity increased in 2020, with the park experiencing about 500 more earthquakes than in 2019.

At least 1,722 earthquakes were recorded in the park in 2020, according to the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory’s annual report. This was an increase from 2019, when the park experienced 1,218 earthquakes.

However, the increase is not any cause for alarm, the report said. The park can experience anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 earthquakes per year, according to historical records.

Only three of the 1,722 earthquakes recorded in 2020 could actually be felt, meaning people reported some shaking.

Each of the larger earthquakes were 3.1 magnitude and occurred on March 31, May 29 and Nov. 25 in the area between Hebgen Lake in Montana and Norris Geyser Basin in the park, a place that has historically experienced higher magnitude quakes.

Around 890 of the earthquakes occurred as a part of 26 “swarms,” the occurrence of a number of small earthquakes in a small area over a relatively short period. Swarms are common in Yellowstone and usually around 50% of the quakes in the park are a part of a swarm.

The largest swarm occurred the week of Sept. 10, when 123 earthquakes happened in a one-week period.

Earthquakes have been recorded in the park since the 1970s, but most are too small in magnitude to be felt by humans. The Yellowstone region is one of the most seismically active areas in the United States.

Since 1973, more than 50,000 earthquakes have been located in the park, but more than 99% of the quakes are less than a magnitude of 2.

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Tourist Season Begins as Yellowstone National Park Opens Up East Entrance

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

There’s an air of excitement on the first weekend in May at the eastern entrance to America’s first national park. 

And the tradition held true Friday as the park opened its eastern gate for the 2021 season.

For tourists who come the park’s eastern entrance through Cody, a trip to Yellowstone National Park is often a lifelong dream. 

Tim Austin from upstate New York said he’s been planning this trip for seven years, and drove over 1,800 miles to get here.

“This is like the place to go in the lower 48 for wildlife photography,” Austin said. “So I will be here until it’s so cold I can’t take it anymore.”

Vehicles began lining up at the east entrance to Yellowstone early Friday morning, with visitors waiting for their chance to experience the wonders of the park.

Stacy Boisseau of Powell, who arrived early Friday morning with her daughter and some friends, has been the first in line for the spring season opening for the last three years – a tradition she and her friends are proud of. 

Others from the region also make the pilgrimage each year — like Brian Johnson from Billings, Montana. 

He noted that the line of cars waiting to enter the Park this year was significantly longer than normal.

“I’ve been coming for the last 10 or 15 years on opening day,” said the wildlife photographer. “But this is the longest I’ve ever seen it, far and away.”

With the shutdowns related to the pandemic, Yellowstone last year was a prime destination for those who had been cooped up for too long under quarantine. 

This year promises to be just as busy, now that travel restrictions have been lifted in most parts of the country. 

And that’s good news for gateway communities like Cody. 

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce each year hosts a “Parks and Pancakes” celebration to mark the opening day of the east gate.

Tina Hoebelheinrich, the chamber’s executive director, said opening day is a jump start for the community.

“It sets the pace for this year,” she explained. “Those of us who live here, I think we miss the opportunity that Yellowstone represents on a day-to-day basis all winter long. So when this day finally comes, it’s such a great opportunity to get in the Park and remember why we live here.”

Hoebelheinrich added that a celebration like “Parks and Pancakes” gives Chamber board members and staff a chance to brush off the cobwebs of the winter and prepare to show off what Wyoming has to offer.

“We’re known for our exceptional western hospitality, and when you don’t have a lot of visitors all winter long, it just feels good to do what we do,” she said.

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