Yellowstone Park east gates swing open
May 11, 2023
Powell family first in line welcomed by new entrance supervisor
POWELL - When Chris Baltz, East Entrance fee supervisor at Yellowstone National Park, saw a car parked in front of the closed entrance Thursday evening before dark, he thought the visitors were mistaken about the park's opening schedule. This is his first season in the park.
He approached the vehicle to advise the occupants, only to find they were well aware of the Friday morning schedule and intended to wait until 8 a.m. to save their place as first in line.
Stacy Boisseau and her crew - daughters Kiya and Hailey McIntosh and McKenzie Clarkson have now been first in line to enter the East Entrance for the past five seasons. They arrive earlier each year for the tradition of the supervisor swinging the gates open on the first Friday in May, trying to extend their record of being first.
They were down one crew member; Grace McIntosh, a fifth-grade student at Southside Elementary School who had been there the four previous years, decided to skip the trip to preserve her perfect attendance record.
"She's part of the student leadership team this year. She's very dedicated - smarter than the rest of us," said Kiya.
Baltz was inspired by their love for the park and, after heading back to his park residence for about an hour, returned to the family with a surprise.
"He brought us a big bowl of popcorn," Boisseau said.
They were shocked, but grateful for the treat. The last thing Baltz did before opening the gate was to collect his stainless steel bowl, pose for a couple pictures with the group and congratulate the East Gate gang on their persistence.
"He's such a cool guy. I'm so grateful for him to have this opportunity," Kiya said.
Baltz is a military veteran, and is working in Yellowstone for his first season. He previously worked at Glacier and Grand Canyon national parks and was a postmaster before scoring the job with the National Park Service.
It was raining when the group arrived at the gate. But then, early Friday morning around 1 a.m., the clouds cleared, revealing the stars.
"It was gorgeous," Boisseau said.
The group stayed up through the night reminiscing and waiting for sunrise. The second vehicle in line arrived at about 4:30 a.m., she said. By 7 a.m. there were still only seven vehicles in line - which is far fewer than normal.
"It was the shortest I've ever seen it. We usually have cars stretched out around the corner by now," she said pointing back toward the Shoshone National Forest. "By the time the sun comes up, I can usually see dozens [of vehicles] in line behind us."
By 8 a.m. there were a couple dozen vehicles in line, all getting through quickly as officials opened three lines to process the guests. Park officials reported it was an average opening day for visitation.
"The weather and snow levels in the park may have been factors affecting the number of visitors coming in," said Linda Veress in the Public Affairs Office.
The snow closed several hiking paths and those wishing to see early spring favorites, like the Harlequin ducks congregating at Le Hardy Rapids, had to make their way through snow, slush and water for a close view.
But visitors seemed to be happy to play in the snow, with several small snowmen built along the way, including at Lake Butte Overlook and near Fishing Bridge.
Traffic in the east section of the park was light through the day, but was fairly congested near the North Gate and throughout the Mammoth and Old Faithful corridors.
Most of the folks entering through the East Gate appeared to be from Wyoming, although a couple had traveled from Iowa for the annual spring opening and a group from Spain traveled all the way to the Lamar Valley, gawking at bison near the road, including a few red dogs (baby bison) and a grizzly munching on roots by the Lamar River just after noon.
Park officials warn visitors that they should anticipate temporary road closures near Sylvan Pass because of increased avalanche danger from recent snowfall and warm temperatures and to watch for quickly changing weather conditions.
"Many areas of the park are still experiencing winter conditions and snow and ice may cover sections of road," said Morgan Warthin in the Public Affairs Office.
There was more snow than in recent years in the east section of the park, with some drifts taller than trucks moving through the area. The depth of the snow slowed wildlife viewing, with many of the bison, elk and deer stacked up near Mammoth Hot Springs, which didn't get as much snow as areas south of the headquarters.
Roads to open this coming Friday, May 12, include the South Entrance to West Thumb, West Thumb to Lake Village, and West Thumb to Old Faithful (Craig Pass). Tower Junction to Tower Fall Road is planned to open by Memorial Day weekend, May 26 at 8 a.m. and includes Dunraven Pass.
While the Northeast Gate is open for business, the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Cooke City and the Chief Joseph Highway has yet to be plowed. The area was hit hard by snow - fairly common - and is usually open by Memorial Day. Residents of the gateway community said crews are already working on opening the road.
May 7-13 is National Travel and Tourism Week. Established in 1983, the event is an annual tradition when the U.S. Travel Association and the entire industry come together to celebrate the power of travel as an economic driver for the U.S. economy. This year's event marks its 40th anniversary.
A National Park Service report released last summer shows the 4.9 million visitors to Yellowstone National Park in 2021 spent over $630 million in communities near the park. That spending supported 8,736 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $834 million.
The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by economists at the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. The report shows $20.5 billion of direct spending by more than 297 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park.
This spending supported 322,600 jobs nationally; 269,900 of those jobs are found in these gateway communities. The cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy was $42.5 billion.
As for the economics of visitor spending, the lodging sector had the highest direct effects, with $7 billion in economic output nationally. The restaurants sector had the second greatest effects, with $4.2 billion in economic output nationally, the report stated.
This story was published on May 9, 2023.