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Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park will close today at the request of neighboring public health and political officials, the parks announced on Tuesday, March 24.
According to the release, no visitors are allowed in the park, but state roads will remain open.
The closure does not have an end date.
“We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels,” the release said.
“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail in the press release. “We are committed to continued close coordination with our state and local partners as we progress through this closure period and are prepared when the timing is right to reopen as quickly and safely as possible.”
Dr. Laurel Desnick, health officer for Park County, praised the decision, saying it will help protect local health care resources and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Park County.
“Thank you to Yellowstone National Park for hearing our concerns,” Desnick said. “We truly believe this may save lives.”
On Sunday, Park and Gallatin county health officials sent separate letters to Sholly and Sec. of the Interior David Bernhardt asking to close the park in order to stop tourists from visiting and potentially spreading COVID-19. The rural communities bordering the park have limited health infrastructure and cannot handle a large outbreak, the letters said. Park and Teton counties in Wyoming also requested the closure, the release said.
Gov. Steve Bullock also sent a letter to Sholly asking the park to close due to its potential to exacerbate risk for all Montanans.
Matt Kelley, the public health officer for the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said Monday the decision to ask Yellowstone to close wasn’t made lightly.
Gallatin County has the highest number of cases in the state, at 16. Kelley said there is evidence of community transmission of the virus in the county.
“We take it really seriously. We know what a huge part of our economy Yellowstone is,” Kelley said.
The only entrance currently open to Yellowstone is in Gardiner, which is in Park County.
Each summer, about four million tourists visit Yellowstone National Park. While visitation this time of year is typically low, tourism generally starts to ramp up once the parks’ four other entrances begin opening on April 17.
Kelley said Gallatin County’s concern is geared more toward the coming months than current conditions.
“We were hearing significantly more concern coming from Park County,” Kelley said. “They were seeing significantly more activity.”
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For a community like West Yellowstone, which is at the southern end of Gallatin County and has a population of about 1,300 people, tens of thousands of daily visitors could easily overwhelm the community’s limited health care resources, Kelley said.
“We’re doing everything we can to protect those resources for as long as we can,” Kelley said.