Park chiefs expect busy summer for Yellowstone, Grand Teton

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent David Vela, left, and Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk spoke Monday at Cody's National Parks Day luncheon.

Ruffin Prevost / Yellowstone Gate

Grand Teton National Park Superintendent David Vela, left, and Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk spoke Monday at Cody's National Parks Day luncheon.

CODY, WYO. — There are plenty of summer construction projects getting started in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, but it wasn’t just bridge and road building that was discussed Monday at Cody’s National Parks Day luncheon. There was talk of building relationships as well.

Superintendents of both parks spoke at the annual event, now in its 62nd year, and both men outlined the importance—and challenges—of working with gateway towns.

Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk said the park is “a far healthier and better park today than it was 36 years ago” when he first visited.

And the National Park Service’s relationship with Cody “is better than it has been in a long time” as well, Wenk said.

Anticipating the imminent retirement of late night host David Letterman, Wenk closed his remarks with a Top 10 List detailing reasons why Cody and Yellowstone appreciate each other, joking that Cody’s status as an affordable vacation spot meant visitors had a little extra cash to cover increased entrance fees.

Grand Teton Superintendent David Vela said the parks are engines that help drive local economies. But the Park Service faces challenges in attracting and serving younger and foreign visitors.

New technologies such as smartphone apps are one way to engage Millennials, Vela said. And creating new Chinese-language printed materials was a step toward conveying important planning and safety information to the growing numbers of visitors from that country.

Work will continue for the next two years to rehabilitate trails, facilities and infrastructure as part of a $17 million project at Jenny Lake, Vela said.

In Yellowstone, road construction will continue on a 7-mile section between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs. A bridge reconstruction project at Isa Lake will mean a closure of Craig Pass until June 11.

“Road projects are going to be a constant issue for Yellowstone for as long as you look into the future,” Wenk said. Last year saw more vehicles move through Yellowstone than ever before.

Wenk said the first winter season under a newly adopted management plan was largely successful, and that park managers will soon be meeting with transportation concessioners to learn how to improve the process for next winter.

Bison management is not a major issue in Wyoming, but it has proven contentious in Montana, Wenk said. Developing a new plan for how to manage the park’s nearly 5,000 bison is a priority.

“It is probably the most complex problem in Yellowstone National Park,” he said.

And while the 2015 summer tourist season has barely begun, Wenk and Vela both offered predictions for a busy 2016.

That year will be the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service, and 2016 will also see National Geographic magazine devote an entire issue to Yellowstone.

“I think we’re going to be a little busy,” Vela said.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].

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