Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk says that the only way to solve overcrowding problems in the world’s oldest national park is to learn more about the people using it.
Park Service officials are beginning a new project to help collect that information this summer.
When Yellowstone National Park hit 4 million visits in 2015 complaints about overcrowding started to be heard.
“How do you feel if you can pull right into a parking space at Old Faithful or if you have to wait 3 to 5 minutes or 10 to 15 minutes?” asked Wenk.
“The problem was people wouldn’t leave the parking area until they would use the restroom and there weren’t enough restrooms,” said Marysue Costello, West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce Executive Director.
“We brought in more restrooms to alleviate some of the pressures, some of the concerns,” said Morgan Warthin, Yellowstone National Park Public Affairs Specialist.
That was a direct result of people speaking out. But Yellowstone doesn’t want to wait for complaints.
“(We want) To understand from our visitors what their experience is like and how they move through the park,” said Warthin.
This summer, some visitors to Yellowstone National Park will be asked questions about their visit. But others will have a completely different experience.
“People are going to be handed a digital tablet,” Warthin added.
They’ll use it to record their experiences in the park. For instance to show how long they stay at certain places and how long it takes them to travel someplace else.
“And then as they’re wrapping up their trip, to leave the tablets at visitor centers and or entrances,” said Warthin.
The surveys will wrap up in September when officials will take a closer look at the results.
“It informs the decision making,” said Wenk.
“All of this information really will help us with visitor management in Yellowstone,” said Warthin.
“It certainly is a concern for the business people here for the sustainability of their businesses,” said Costello.
So what might come out of all this?
“All options are on the table,” said Warthin.
Is there going to be some kind of limitation on visits to parks, to Yellowstone?” Wenk asked. “Is there going to be some kind of reservation system? Are we going to try to spread the visits out?”
“And of course the parking situation inside the park itself,” Costello said.
Unlike Glacier and other popular parks, Yellowstone doesn’t have a shuttle bus system, but Wenk said it warrants a closer look.
“What kind of a shuttle system, how would it work?” he said. “What would you be willing to pay?”
Wenk says don’t expect any recommendations until at least April of 2019. Costello says whatever is decided will require careful coordination.
“It’s not going to be just the towns, the communities that surround the park, or the park itself, or the forest,” said Costello.
“The end goal I think is the same as we’ve always had, which is to protect and preserve Yellowstone National Park,” said Warthin.
Wenk cautions that while the park will work to make visiting Yellowstone more enjoyable, it won’t force people into a cookie cutter experience.
“I want them to know that almost any expectation can be met, but I’m not here to set their expectations,” said Wenk.
Park officials also plan to talk to business owners and residents of the gateway communities around Yellowstone to include their ideas about handling the growing number of visitors.