A Bozeman man was ticketed Friday for traveling through the northern gate at Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner in an attempt to reach Cooke City.
Tyler Vance was charged with a misdemeanor for violating a “health and safety closure order.” The ticket is time-stamped 7:37 p.m. Vance posted several videos of the interaction on Friday, including one that shows him driving through the northern gate, a 14-minute Facebook Live video that shows him being pulled over and handcuffed by Yellowstone park rangers.
Vance, who describes himself in the video as a concrete worker, said he has essential work in Cooke City, and pleads with a deputy to not enforce “unconstitutional laws.” Vance also expressed opposition to the “tyranny” of laws blocking his visit to Cooke City. Vance did not immediately respond to Montana Free Press’ request for comment.
The Montana Daily Gazette, a right-wing website that posts inflammatory commentary, published a post Monday about the incident. A GoFundMe created by Vance on Monday to solicit assistance with his legal fees had raised $950 of a $50,000 goal from 11 donors as of press time.
Vance filed to run in the 2020 Republican primary for the state Senate representing the 31st District but was later removed from the ballot.
Yellowstone National Park’s entrances in Wyoming — located near Cody and Jackson — opened on Monday. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said the entrances near Cooke City, Gardiner and West Yellowstone will not open until at least June 1.
A press contact for Yellowstone National Park did not have an immediate response to a request for comment.
Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said the deputy on scene was responding to a call for assistance by Yellowstone park rangers. The deputy had been in Gardiner, and park law enforcement asked for backup after Vance did not immediately pull over.
“That was an isolated incident, as far as I know,” Bichler said.
Bichler said the national park has its own rules that may or may not coincide with local rules.
“There’s not a whole lot we can do about that,” Bichler said. “If it is in the national park, it is outside our jurisdiction.”
Cooke City is accessible only through Yellowstone National Park during the winter. Yellowstone closed to the public on March 24 at the request of public health officials in neighboring counties. Earlier this month, the road to Cody, Wyoming, was plowed and people traveling from Wyoming can now access Cooke City. The Beartooth Highway, which connects Cooke City to Red Lodge, is not yet open. Montana still has a two-week quarantine in place for non-essential travelers, including residents.
Highway 191, which runs through Yellowstone National Park and connects West Yellowstone, Big Sky and Bozeman, has remained open for through travel.
Across the country, people protesting stay-at-home orders and other closures have gathered without masks, and sometimes with weapons, to rally against directives by state and public health officials aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. Last month, about 300 Montanans gathered in Helena to protest Bullock’s stay-at-home order, which was lifted April 27.
In the first video, posted Friday evening, Vance approaches the gate and says he has essential business in Cooke City. “It’s my right to travel,” Vance said. “This road predates the national park. That’s a Montana town, and we have a right to get there.”
The ranger tells Vance that the governor has determined people should not visit Cooke City and has closed the road.
“The governor’s orders are inadmissible in court,” Vance said.
The ranger then lets him drive through. Vance next posted to Facebook the separate video that shows him being pulled over by rangers.
“I’m probably going to jail. But you know what bud? Someone’s got to do it,” Vance said as he drove with red and blue lights flashing behind him. “Somebody’s got to stand up for our rights.”
After being pulled over, Vance is told to get out of his car, which he does.
“You are not allowed in the park,” a ranger tells him.
Vance responds that he has essential business in Cooke City. The ranger then tells Vance he needs to have proof of that. The ranger then offers to let Vance leave or be arrested. Vance chooses to be arrested. He then argues the arrest is unconstitutional.
After being handcuffed, Vance asks the Park County sheriff’s deputy to tell the rangers he needs to get through. The deputy tells Vance that he broke a federal law, and that the rangers have to follow the law.
“You guys are destroying that town. They need business to reopen,” Vance said.
The deputy said people in Cooke City do not want people to visit right now. Bichler said the deputy was attempting to defuse the situation.
“I’ve been there like 20, 10, 15 times this year. I know the business owners, they want it back open,” Vance replied.
The deputy then replied that he knows some businesses want to open, but that the town is currently shut down.
“Would you refuse something your boss ordered you?” the deputy said.
Vance posted another video to Facebook Friday night explaining that he had been charged with a class B misdemeanor, given a notice to appear in court and allowed to go home following the incident.
Vance posted to Facebook on Saturday evening that he had traveled to Cooke City through Cody to attend “sled fest,” an annual event that serves as a fundraiser for the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. There is no information available online about a 2020 sled fest, but previous years’ events appear to be held in mid-May.
This article was updated May 19 to correct an inaccuracy. Vance did not post a video to Facebook that shows him driving home after the interaction.