Yellowstone National Park Facing ‘Very, Very Large Problem’ Due to Record Crowds This Year

by Evan Reier

When you’re traversing through Yellowstone National Park, you see so many wonderful sights that it feels like you’re seeing a huge percentage of the park.

In reality, unless you’ve got a lot of time and energy, you’re just scratching the surface. The majority of visitors prefer to stick to the roadways and sights alongside them, but that makes up just 5 percent of the park.

With Yellowstone National Park now seeing more visitors than ever before, park officials are running into a problem: congestion. Specifically, congestion related to roadway traffic.

In an interview with the Associated Press, park superintendent Cam Sholly puts the problem into perspective.

“We have a very, very large problem in a very small percentage of this park,” he said.

Yellowstone National Park has to focus 95 percent of its yearly budget on that 5 percent that is covered or near roadways. With 4.47 million visitors this summer, it’s a must, but that doesn’t come with issues, especially in the labor situation of 2021.

“The staff is under a substantial amount of stress that comes with managing that level of visitation,” Sholly said.

Worker Shortage Affecting Yellowstone National Park

Here’s a wild scenario: you hire more employees, but are still understaffed. While many businesses across the country have struggled to get people in the door, Yellowstone National Park added more hands. However, it was still not enough to meet the recent influx of visitors.

“The workforce shortage that a lot of businesses experienced throughout the country – that hit Yellowstone, especially with some of the food and beverage operations and trying to keep employees and keep service levels where they’d normally be,” Sholly said.

To put it in perspective, the superintendent breaks it down logistically. Just one visitor adds strain to many different aspects of the park.

“What does 750,000 people more in a single year flushing the toilets five times a day do to your wastewater treatment facilities?”

Now, the park will look to analyze how visitors interact with the park. The goal, of course, is to see where the park can become more efficient.

2021 may have been an outlier due to many people being eager to get out and travel after the COVID-19 pandemic. But Yellowstone can’t afford to assume crowds will go back down, nor do they especially want less visitors.

Electric shuttles were successfully tested this summer, and can help. But the fact of the matter is that the number of visitors will continue upward. Shuttles are helpful, but it will take a comprehensive effort to handle all of its issues.

“Unquestionably, the (visitation) trend will continue to be upward,” Sholly said. “The overall trend will be up, but that doesn’t mean it will be record every single year.

“We’re all going to need to be ready for what I see will be continuing visitation downstream.”