Yellowstone National Park will open its Wyoming gates from Cody and Jackson for daytime visits to the southern parts of the park starting noon Monday.
Grand Teton National Park also will open to limited use May 18, Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail announced Wednesday. “Everybody seems to think we’re in a good place,” he said of pandemic infection metrics during a telephone press briefing Wednesday.
The openings mark the first step in a phased plan to welcome visitors following the COVID-19 closures that began March 24. How the rest of the season develops depends in part on how visitors behave, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said in the briefing.
“I put an enormous responsibility on the public,” he said, urging adherence to pandemic safety guidelines. “I will not put our staff at risk” attempting to “discipline large crowds,” he said.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon said the state’s substantial loosening of many of its requirements gives him some anxiety. Although he believes the parks operations will be safe, he said at a press conference Wednesday, “our citizens are at greater risk today, because of what we’re talking about with Yellowstone Park…”
“That’s not easy,” Gordon said.
With cooperation and a conservative, phased opening, July, August and September could be salvaged, Sholly said. “We still have some of the best months in front of us,” he said.
Only roads serving Old Faithful, Norris, Lake, Canyon, West Thumb and Madison from the South Entrance, near Jackson, and the East Entrance, near Cody, will be open. The closed Montana entrances, which account for 70% of normal traffic, will not open at least until the governor there lifts travel restrictions, Sholly said.
Boardwalks and trails will be open as will at least some restrooms and gas stations. No commercial buses will be allowed into the parks during the first phase of reopening.
Grand Teton will open primary roads, including the Moose-Wilson byway and Jenny Lake Loop road. Visitors will be allowed on pathways, trails and can fish from river and shore banks in both parks where regulations permit.
Entrance stations will be open, staffed and charging entry fees. Backcountry camping, river and lake boating and campgrounds will stay closed during the first phase, officials said.
Montana entrances to Yellowstone may open soon, Sholly said; “I don’t think Montana is far behind.” Opening all five entrances to the park at the same time would not have been feasible, he said.
Phase 2 would include opening some visitor cabins, convenience stores, and river and lake boating as invasive-species-inspection teams are deployed. Access to buildings like visitor centers may be limited to a certain density of people.
Phase 3 openings would include hotels and restaurant dining and other full service facilities. “When states and the CDC lift restrictions on large gatherings and public health officials say it’s safe for us to begin using shared housing, we can then open more facilities,” Sholly said.
Officials understand the parks are major economic drivers, Sholly said. “We’re not obtuse to the strains and stressors you are under,” he said to regional community members.
Anna Olson, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the gradual re-opening along with relaxation of health orders in Teton County. “We hope a gradual build will allow us to safely balance return-to-work and community health needs,” she wrote in an email.
— Andrew Graham contributed to this story.
This story was updated May 14 to include comments by the president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce and to correct the name of the entrance near Cody — Ed.