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.