Overcrowding Threatens Future of Yellowstone

A pair of new studies released by Yellowstone National Park show that record numbers of visitors are causing a variety of safety and overcrowding issues at the iconic park, inspiring officials to consider stricter visitor management strategies for the future.  

Since 2008, annual visitation in Yellowstone has increased by more than 40 percent, according to a statement issued by the park Thursday. The impacts of that increase can be felt in a myriad of ways, according to the two separate studies the park conducted.

Highlights from the two reports—a Visitor Use Study and also a Transportation and Vehicle Mobility Study, include:

—More than half of Yellowstone visitors surveyed think there are too many people in the park.

—Within Yellowstone’s most heavily-traveled corridors, parking lots are overflowing, traffic jams abound and roadway safety incidents are on the rise.

—The busiest park corridors are the roads connecting Yellowstone’s West Entrance with visitor attractions throughout the western and central parts of the park (such as Old Faithful, other geyser basins, the Canyon Area, Hayden Valley, Fishing Bridge and Lake Village.)

—During much of the summer season, there are on average nearly 30 percent more vehicles using the park’s most heavily traveled corridors than the roads can comfortably and safely handle.

—Outside of heavily-travelled corridors, traffic levels are also high, with vehicles following closely behind other vehicles 60-80 percent of the time.

 “This visitation growth challenges the park’s ability to manage visitor use in a way that protects resources and offers high-quality, safe visitor experiences,” the release states.

What’s more, these problems are likely to get worse in the coming years.

Assuming a conservative 3.7 percent to 5.3 percent growth rate per year, all roadways in the park are expected to perform poorly by 2021 to 2023 due to traffic volume, according to the report.

“Historic and recent trends demonstrate that visitation will increase over the long-term, therefore, it is imperative for us to plan now,” said Superintendent Dan Wenk in a statement. “Good visitor use management will allow the park to protect resources, encourage access, and improve experiences.”

The good news is that park officials are being proactive about the crowding and management issues.

Data from the two new reports, combined with internal data about resource impacts, will be used by Yellowstone managers to develop management strategies that could implemented in the future. Such strategies might include communication and traffic management systems, shuttle systems and other types of transportation alternatives, as well as a reservation or timed-entry system.

The strategies could be implemented in key locations or park wide, according to the report.

Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park and Acadia National Park are already using shuttle systems to alleviate traffic.

WATCH: Take in the views from Yellowstone (provided by Travel + Leisure)