By Ruffin Prevost
Spring is always a favorite time for many local residents to visit Yellowstone National Park. But tourism boosters in Cody, Wyo. are hoping a new event will draw more attention—and visitors—to the earliest days when the park opens to automobiles each year.
Working with a wide range of partners, the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce is launching Spring Into Yellowstone, a birding and wildlife festival that will include guided trips, interactive forums and a trade show May 15-19.
With the annual Rendezvous Royale arts festival already anchoring the fall shoulder season in Cody, organizers were looking for an annual spring event to attract more visitors to the area, according to a statement released by the Cody Chamber.
“This festival is going to be an excellent way to kick off our summer season,” said executive director Scott Balyo.
Much of the event will focus on bird-watching and photography, as organizers aim to tap into a national community of 48 million self-identified birders who spend more than $35 billion annually on the hobby, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“There is a huge bird migration pattern in the spring, and it’s my absolute favorite time of year in the park,” said Meg Sommers, a Cody tour guide who also is a wildlife photography instructor for the Yellowstone Association Institute.
A diverse range of birds can be seen around the greater Yellowstone area in the spring, Sommers said, and by mid-May, many newborn animals can also be spotted in the park.
By May 15, all of Yellowstone’s entrance gates are scheduled to be open, with only Beartooth Pass and Dunraven Pass still closed. But the crushing crowds of summer will be missing.
That means getting around the park will be easier, and capturing the perfect bird or wildlife photo will be too, said Rob Koelling, an English professor at Northwest College who has a passion for wildlife and nature photography.
“I had a heartbreaking moment in Yellowstone one time when I was set up and had been waiting 15 minutes for a grizzly to come into an opening,” Koelling said. “I was focused on just the right spot, then everything went white. I looked up, and a tour bus had stopped right in front of me.”
By the time he could move his gear around the bus, the grizzly bear was gone and the moment was lost, Koelling said.
Such frustrations are far less likely in the spring, and guided trips to known spotting areas are a great idea for visitors focused on bird and wildlife viewing and photography, he said.
“Having some structure and guides will really increase the odds of success for people coming from outside of the area,” Koelling said.
Among the partners supporting Spring Into Yellowstone will be the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Yellowstone National Park, Shoshone National Forest, Bureau of Land Management, Friends of a Legacy, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Similar events have helped boost off-season tourism in other communities, so creating an annual spring festival could yield long-term benefits for Cody.
“We felt that because of the partnerships and the fact that this will bring people here during a great time of the year that it would be an ideal event,” Balyo said.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].