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Yellowstone National Park braces for more crowds after 2 years of records

CODY, Wyo. — Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent has predicted the number of park visitors will keep growing after two straight years of record attendance but said park personnel are prepared for the challenge.

“We have seen a steady growth and over the long term it continues to grow,” Wenk told The Cody Enterprise. “We will be dealing with increased visitation into the future.”

Yellowstone had 4,097,711 visitors in 2015 and topped that number by October this year, when the number of park visitors reached 4,221,782.

Park attendance might have been higher this year but Yellowstone’s southern entrance was hit with closures in August because of wildfires and the park received early snow in October.

Yellowstone opened in 1872 and is the country’s oldest national park. It was overrun by visitors in summer 2015, causing traffic jams on park roads and packed bathrooms with corresponding complaints about the problems, Wenk said.

The park responded by boosting staffing for the summer of 2016 and there were fewer problems, Wenk said.

“We learned a lot from the summer of 2015,” he said. “Adjustments were made and they made some of the congestion better.”

Wenk expressed concern about dangerous and illegal activity by some visitors — including a bison calf put in a vehicle by people who thought it was cold, tourists who left footprints at the Grand Prismatic Spring and a man who strayed off a boardwalk and died after falling into a hot spring.

The park has many warning signs for visitors, but Wenk said he “was disturbed our messages weren’t getting out.”

“People actually knew, but they thought the risk was worth taking,” he said. “We have a lot of behavior in the park where people risk their lives or the resource. You can’t protect everybody from everything.”

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