YNP South Gate visitation

Traffic counts at the Yellowstone South Gate have exceeded 2019 numbers since early June.

The spike in active Teton County coronavirus cases comes amid a wave of tourism.

By a couple of measures, more people are venturing to Jackson Hole on any given day this summer than in 2019, which itself was a strong tourism season.

The Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board has started using a cellphone data analytics firm, Placer.ai, to track numbers of nonresidents within town limits. Since the July 4 weekend, the estimate has ranged between 36,000 and 44,000 visitors daily.

Earlier in the season, tourism lagged behind 2019, often by double-digit percentage points. That changed last week. Going into the weekend, this summer’s people count exceeded last year’s marks on four straight days, with the largest difference coming last Friday, when the year-over-year tourism estimate was up 9%.

Traffic data gathered weekly at Yellowstone National Park’s South Gate corroborates that more and more people are flocking to northwest Wyoming, even as the pandemic tightens its grip on the region.

The National Park Service declined to share nuanced visitation data with the Jackson Hole Daily, but Yellowstone officials have made weekly figures for the park’s entrance stations available to local elected officials.

Those figures show that the volume of vehicles flowing through the entrance station just past Flagg Ranch was steadily running below last year’s levels until around the last week of June. Each week since then more cars, SUVs and camper vans were tallied than in the same week in 2019.

The gains are most pronounced recently: During the week that ended July 12, South Gate counters detected nearly 14,000 vehicles, up approximately 15% from traffic the same week last year.

Restaurants and retail businesses, winnowed in number by COVID-related closures deflecting customers elsewhere, have felt the crush. At Jackson’s three fast-food restaurants — McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Dairy Queen — lines have wrapped around the buildings throughout the day.

“It’s been very busy,” Dairy Queen assistant manager Todd Heibel said. “It’s a little hectic.”

Heibel’s staffers have been taking between 400 and 700 orders daily, all filled at the drive-thru window behind the Grill and Chill on Flat Creek.

“We don’t have our lobby open,” Heibel said, “and with at least two restaurants and a bar that’s down, we’re not going to open.”

The decision to stick to drive-thru-only wasn’t easy.

“Customers are probably getting upset,” Heibel said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it, and we’re just trying to protect our customers and ourselves.”

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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(1) comment

David Weingart

People show up and don't practice social distancing and don't wear masks.

Jackson will pay the price :(

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