The beloved National Park system offers travelers a unique way to get up close and personal with some of the greatest natural wonders and awe-inspiring beauty found anywhere on Earth. Of the 63 locations spanning 52.2 million acres, Yellowstone remains one of the most popular destinations in the agency’s scope. 4.86 million visitors in 2021, according to the US National Park Service. But just as this year’s busy summer season began, many travelers saw their plans jeopardized after catastrophic flooding forced the park to close abruptly. With the park reopening, officials have announced some major rule changes for anyone heading to Yellowstone soon, including one determined by your car or vehicle. Read on to see what can make a big impact on your trip.
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While most of the US is no stranger to extreme weather recently, on the weekend of June 11, Yellowstone National Park suffered a devastating flood that park officials said was caused by “unprecedented” rainfall in the area, per The New York Times† The record-breaking high water levels damaged and destroyed roads and bridges, completely washing away some key routes and blocking others with fallen trees and mudslides in what the U.S. Geological Survey called a “one in 500 year eventIn response, officials closed all five entrances to the park on June 13 and… 10,000 visitors evacuated let in, Axios reports. But officials are already warning that the damage caused by rising water may affect visits in the near future as they assess all necessary repairs.
“The landscape has literally and figuratively changed drastically in the last 36 hours”, Bill Berg, a commissioner in nearby Park County, told the Associated Press. “It’s kind of ironic that this spectacular landscape was created by violent geological and hydrological events, and it’s just not very helpful if it happens while we’re all stuck here.”
But in addition to the physical changes brought by the extreme weather, officials have also announced new rules that will affect visitors to the park in the coming months.
Just a week after the entrances were closed, officials announced on June 20 that: Yellowstone National Park to partially reopen begins at 8 a.m. on June 22, according to a National Park Service press release. Initially, visitors will only be able to access the park’s southern loop as officials “determine how to manage summer visits while the northern loop remains closed due to flood damage”.
But in addition to restricting which areas can be visited, officials are also instituting a new “interim visitor access plan” known as the Alternating License Plate System (ALPS). The admission rules aim to ensure “the southern loop is not overrun by visitors” by restricting access to Yellowstone based on the numbers printed on a vehicle’s license plate.
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According to the National Park Service, the new system will operate based on the latest digit on vehicle registration plate and the numerical calendar date of the month. Cars with odd numbers as the last digit on their license plates can enter on odd days of the month, while vehicles with even last numbers can enter on even days.
Vehicles with a dressing table without numbers are allowed to enter only on “odd” days, according to the official press release. In addition, all cars with a combination of numbers and letters on their personalized license plate use the last number printed to determine eligibility to participate.
Officials also point out that there are a few exceptions to the entry rules. Visitors who have proof of lodging reservations at hotels, campgrounds, or backcountry reservations can access regardless of their license plate, as well as commercial operators such as organized tour groups or commercial motorcoaches. However, all motor groups are only allowed access on even dates.
Despite the changed admission requirement, the relatively fast reopening of the southern loop of the park will probably come as a relief to anyone who has a trip planned. But those looking to explore the park’s famous northern loop may not be able to do so anytime soon.
“We anticipate that this area of the park will likely remain closed for a significant amount of time,” reads the National Park Service’s FAQ website. “Many sections of road in these areas have completely disappeared and will require significant time and effort to reconstruct. Yellowstone personnel are working to determine other potential areas of the park that can be reopened before all park roads close for the season on Nov. 1. .”
Still, officials remained cautiously optimistic in light of the catastrophic damage. “We have made tremendous progress in a very short time, but we still have a long way to go.” Cam Sholly, the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park said in the press release. “We have an aggressive plan for recovery in the north and resumption of operations in the south.”
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