Grand Teton National Park closed

Traffic cones divert visitors to Grand Teton National Park back toward the highway April 6 near the park’s Moose entrance. Grand Teton and Yellowstone plan to operate at a reduced capacity and with fewer people on staff this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pressure is building for Northwest Wyoming’s national parks to open their gates after six totally closed weeks, with local elected officials formally requesting the public gain access as early as next week and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon saying it will happen soon.

Gordon, in a media briefing Thursday afternoon, said he’s “looking forward to being able, with the federal government, to open the national parks before Memorial Day,” which falls on May 25.

“My biggest concern is our counties — Park and Teton and Fremont — making sure that everyone is comfortable with this,” Gordon said. “We’ve looked at ways the parks can open sequentially so that we get people here and enjoying what Wyoming has to offer.”

The Teton County Board of Commissioners on Thursday signed off on a letter to Gordon, who requested the input, asking for a “safe, structured, phased reopening” of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks starting as early as May 15 — next Friday.

“We will continue to encourage visitors and residents to recreate responsibly: Stay close to home, practice safe physical distancing, and give others at least 6 feet of separation on trails, docks, overlooks and other areas,” commissioners wrote in the letter.

There was some disagreement among the five-person board about how extensive of a letter to write to the governor, and also whether to copy federal officials on the missive. Determining exactly who said what was tricky, because a livestream on the county’s website sputtered through the morning hours as internet connections in the valley were failing. Because the spotty feed, commissioners put off finalizing the letter until later in the day. There was a split vote in the end, commissioner Luther Propst said.

“We voted three-to-two, with Mark Newcomb and myself on the short end of the stick, to send a letter to the governor endorsing the idea that the park open between May 15 and June 1,” Propst said.

Newcomb and Propst espoused opening the park even earlier — as early as Tuesday — so that locals can recreate. A longer letter they favored provided a rationale for doing so. There are three primary values of the national parks, Propst said: economic, ecological and as a source of recreation for the people who live in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

“I wanted to emphasize that Grand Teton National Park should have allowed local people to park at the Bradley-Taggart trailhead and use Teton Park Road,” Propst said.

Commissioners Natalia Macker, Greg Epstein and Mark Barron favored a more straightforward letter centered on providing opening dates the community were on board with.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton closed down in conjunction on March 24. Reopening decisions will be made collectively, with input from the states of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, health officials and gateway communities, the park superintendents have said.

Officials for both parks have been leery to disclose targeted reopening dates. Yellowstone and Grand Teton over the last week have held conference calls with businesses that possess “commercial use authorizations,” and depend on the parks for their livelihoods. In neither call were specifics provided, according to parties on the calls.

Teton Park concessionaire Grand Teton Lodge Company lists May 22, the start of Memorial Day weekend, as the date when it will begin to open its infrastructure.

A copy of Teton County’s letter to Gordon is attached to the online version of this story at JHNewsAndGuide.com.

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.

(8) comments

Richard Rynearson

I hope to be one of your seasonal park rangers. I feel it is time to open up slowly and more or less bite the bullet. Whether now or a month from now the risk will not change that much. Be ready to deal with some illness if it occurs. The public needs to take responsibility for their own health and stay away from other people if they don't feel good. We need to save lives, but we also must save livelihoods.

Ken Chison

Leave em closed! Rip out the roads and bridges and let it return to what it was 150 years ago. Then, the tourists wont be compelled to visit. Expand our newest scenic tour service to fly over it and see it from the air. The animals will no longer be harassed, from tourists and photographers, and normality can return to NW Wyoming.

Marion Dickinson

I do not understand why those of us who live in northern Wyoming close to the YNP are locked out until the busloads of tourists from around the world have a chance to compete with us for entrance. The roads are good now, we can fill our vehicles at service stations outside in the border areas. Local taxes pay for highway maintenance, but we are locked out until the foreign tourists can get in.

JOhn Smothers

open the parks!!!! Open the bars too, open everything.

david lawrence

Yeah let's kill each other whoopee!! Without widespread testing, by opening, we can infect each other without knowing it and have the virus spread rapidly.

JOhn Smothers

Its about time to open things up. Stop living in fear. If your sick, stay home. You have a sick child, then stay home. It's common sense people.

david lawrence

You just don't get it. It's common sense that there are many people who have the virus who're asymptomatic. By opening, these people spread the virus unknowingly. Then people die and the virus spreads.

Richard Rynearson

I agree John. All of us need to realize we have a new responsibility to keep OTHER people near us safe just in case we are shedding the virus. Nobody can do that for us. Visitors may need to be reminded (in a kind way) that they share this responsibility to keep other people safe while they enjoy the area.

Welcome to the discussion.

Please note: Online comments may also run in our print publications.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Please turn off your CAPS LOCK.
No personal attacks. Discuss issues & opinions rather than denigrating someone with an opposing view.
No political attacks. Refrain from using negative slang when identifying political parties.
Be truthful. Don’t knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be proactive. Use the “Report” link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with us. We’d love to hear eyewitness accounts or history behind an article.
Use your real name: Anonymous commenting is not allowed.