CASPER –– If you’ve recently visited any of Wyoming’s national parks, you are rarely alone.
This year, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks reported their highest visitor numbers in the first quarter since they began collecting data about 30 years ago, a state report said.
Yellowstone had nearly 108,000 visits and Grand Teton saw over 194,000. This corresponds to an increase of 20.7% and 22.8% from 2020.
It is not surprising that more people visited the parks in 2021 due to the “downward trend of the pandemic”, but this year again saw significant increases compared to 2019.
Up to this year, 2019 had generated the highest number of visitors in the first quarter for the two parks. But compared to 2019, visits that year for Yellowstone and Grand Teton increased 14% and 17%, respectively.
To put this in perspective, visits to Yellowstone only increased 9% between the first quarters of 2018 and 2019. For Grand Teton, that number was 5%.
“The number of park visits increases every year as the population grows, but not as much as this year,” said Dr. Wenlin Liu, the state’s chief economist.
As the vaccinations increase and the locks get lifted, more people get out and explore.
“It’s nothing special for Yellowstone, but rather general. People are doing more outdoor recreation, ”said Liu.
Part of the increased travel and outdoor activities this year is due to people’s personal incomes increasing from 2020 to 2021 due to stimulus checks and the lack of travel, Liu said.
“There is a lot of catching up to do from Americans who have been home for the past year,” said Diane Shober, executive director of the Wyoming Tourism Bureau.
Teton County, where the two parks are located, recorded the second-highest increase in taxable sales from Q1 2020 to 2021, at 32.2%. Liu attributes the increase primarily to tourism income, particularly from lodging and sales taxes on businesses like restaurants and gas.
“Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park are economic engines for all of Mountain West,” said Shober. “Tourism is such an important part of Wyoming’s economic health and wellbeing,” she added.
While an increase in visitors to Wyoming national parks has economic benefits, the increase in visitors has also resulted in overcrowding in the area.
In Teton County’s increased visitor numbers, Sheriff Matt Carr named the worst traffic since taking office in the county in 1999. In addition, heavy traffic jams usually don’t appear until August.
“In the raging August you’re just crazy trying to get anywhere,” Carr previously told the Star Tribune. “The angry August started in June of this year.”
To remove some of the overcrowding in outdoor spaces across the state, Governor Mark Gordon recently allocated $ 6.5 million of the remaining CARES Act money to expanding capacity at Wyoming state parks and historic sites.
“This will expand opportunities for people to spend time outdoors in the state, boost tourism and tackle the overcrowding caused by COVID-19,” a governor’s office said in a press release.
This money was already used on the 4th weekend of July.
Glendo State Park, Buffalo Bill State Park, and Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site all had 135 new and temporary campsites that were funded with the CARES money. Glendo had 30 of these sites, Buffalo Bill had 100, and Medicine Lodge had five.
“Wyoming is all about outdoor recreation and tourism, and we’re excited to offer more services to residents and non-resident visitors alike,” said Dave Glenn, assistant director of Wyoming State Parks, on a state parks Facebook post . “If visitors only stay one night or have another cheeseburger, that is a win for the economy of our country.”
The capacity of the parks is not the only thing that is being driven by the influx of people. The state workforce is also struggling to keep up.
“The primary message is: We need more workers,” said Shober.
While this year has been busier than ever for the state parks, this trend may not continue, especially as pandemic fatigue subsides.
“It is difficult to maintain the current high level,” said Liu.