By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Yellowstone National Park will reopen its northern loop to visitors on Saturday, almost three weeks after the park closed entirely due to flooding, allowing an end to the “alternating license plate” system that had controlled entry to the park.
With the northern loop reopening, visitors will now be able to access Norris Junction to Mammoth Hot Springs, Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower-Roosevelt and Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction and will be able to access the north and south loops through the east, west and south entrances.
“We’re pleased to reopen the north loop of Yellowstone to the visiting public less than three weeks after this major flood event,” Superintendent Cam Sholly said on Thursday. “We have attempted to balance major recovery efforts while reopening as much of the park as possible.”
Federal Highway Administration engineers have completed final bridge and road safety inspections. Temporary repairs to the wastewater systems have been evaluated and will accommodate day use on the north loop.
Park officials cautioned the public that high water remains in many waterways and urged visitors to be aware of backcountry closures in the north loop due to hazardous conditions or damaged trails and bridges.
Available services in the north loop will include general stores at Tower and Mammoth Hot Springs and gasoline in both locations. Additional services may open in upcoming weeks.
The North Entrance Road (Gardiner, Montana to Mammoth Hot Springs) and Northeast Entrance Road (Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana to Tower-Roosevelt) remain closed to visitor vehicle traffic while temporary repairs are completed.
Visitors may access the park on foot through these entrances in order to reach areas not identified as closed.
Park officials will evaluate authorizing bicycle use through these entrances in the near future.
Park staff are working with commercial guides and outfitters in Gardiner and Cooke City/Silver Gate to further expand park access where possible.
Also reopening this week was a 23-mile segment of the Beartooth Highway.
Reconnecting the park to Gardiner and Cooke City/Silver Gate remains Yellowstone’s highest flood recovery priority. These communities are open with access to the park as described above.
Alternating License Plate System suspended
Yellowstone implemented the Alternating License Plate System upon reopening the south loop on June 22 to ensure visitor traffic did not overwhelm the south loop. Park officials said the interim system worked “very effectively” at moderating traffic within the park.
But with the opening of the north loop and 93% of the park’s road system open, the license plate system will be suspended effective Saturday, officials said. Visitor entrances from east, west and south will return to normal entrance procedures.
Park staff will continue monitoring visitor use data, traffic counts and the condition of infrastructure over the upcoming months to ensure visitor usage is not overwhelming capacity. The ALPS system may be reinstituted if this becomes the case.
Most of Yellowstone’s southern backcountry will open to overnight use on Friday, but some trails and campsites will remain closed for repairs due to flood impacts, high water and bear management closures.
A large portion of the backcountry in the north remains closed as damage assessments continue. Many northern trails have been severely damaged and bridges washed away.