WAPITI, Wyo. — Hundreds of cars, trucks and recreational vehicles were backed up in long lines at entrances to Yellowstone National Park as it partially reopened Wednesday morning following record floods that reshaped the park’s rivers and canyons, wiped out numerous roads and left some areas famous for their wildlife viewing inaccessible, possibly for months to come.
Park managers raised the gates at three of Yellowstone’s five entrances for the first time since June 13, when 10,000 visitors were ordered out after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana surged over their banks following a torrent of rainfall that accelerated the spring snowmelt.
Some of the premier attractions at America’s first national park will again be viewable, including Old Faithful — the legendary geyser that shoots towering bursts of steaming water almost like clockwork more than a dozen times a day.
But the bears, wolves and bison that roam the wild Lamar Valley and the thermal features around Mammoth Hot Springs will remain out of reach. The wildlife-rich northern half of the park will be shuttered until at least early July, and key routes into the park remain severed near the Montana tourist towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge and Cooke City.
It’s unknown how many visitors will show up in the flooding’s immediate aftermath, but the lines indicate many tourists stuck to their plans despite uncertainty last week on when it would reopen. License plates at the east entrance near Wapiti, Wyoming, indicated they were from Indiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Colorado, British Columbia in Canada and other places. The first visitors going through didn’t have to contend with other traffic, but they had to watch for marmots on the road.
Park managers had been bracing for throngs as the park celebrated its 150th anniversary a year after it tallied a record 4.9 million visits.
Muris Demirovic, 43, of Miami, and his 70-year-old mother arrived at the east entrance at about 5:30 a.m. Wednesday and were second in a line of dozens of cars. He and his mother, who is from Bosnia, were on a cross country trip visiting national parks and Yellowstone was at the top of their list.
However, when they arrived, it was closed due to flooding. Demirovic and his mother toured Cody, Wyoming, went to a rodeo, walked some trails and visited a museum. They had planned to leave the Yellowstone area on Monday, but stayed when they learned the park would re-open this week.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me and my mom, so I had to make sure she sees this,” he said.
To keep visitor numbers down while repairs continue, park managers will use a system that only allows cars with even-numbered last digits on their license plates to enter on even days, while vehicles with odd-numbered last numbers can come on odd days.
Groups of visitors traveling together in different cars are exempt from the license plate system as well as people with reservations at campgrounds and hotels in the park.
If traffic along the park’s 400 miles of roads becomes unmanageable, Sholly said officials will impose a reservation system to enter the park.
Before the park opened, dozens of RVs, trucks and cars were stacked up at the East Entrance.