Attendance at Yellowstone National Park keeps rising and 2017 is expected to be another record-setting year.
That’s pretty impressive considering that in 2015, the park set a record with 4 million visitors. Last year, the centennial year for the National Parks Service, Yellowstone had 4.2 million visitors.
But what’s new in 2017 and expected of visitors?
For the answer to those questions and more, I talked to Morgan Warthin, a Public Affairs Specialist with Yellowstone National Park.
She said a huge amount of effort is going into promoting the so-called “Yellowstone Pledge,” a series of behavioral promises that will help them be a steward of the park and protect themselves and others.
Warthin said it originates with a need to have those increasing numbers of visitors ensure they leave the park with zero emergencies during their respective visits.
“The pledge has stemmed from the significant increase in visitation that we’ve seen in the park in the last couple of years,” Warthin told me.
But with that increase visitation, have come increased incidences of emergency.
“For instance, people are just getting too close to elk,” Warthin said. “Or way too close to bison.”
Another big problem, she said, is that people are not staying on the park’s boardwalks (where applicable in thermal areas).
“We really want to reach out to all of our visitors and to have them understand that their positive behaviors, positive actions in the park contribute to preserving this exceptional place that they’re coming to see.”
Taking the pledge a step further, Warthin told me about some additional ways people can stay safe in Yellowstone.
One way, she said, is to practice what she calls “safe selfies,” or not getting to close to animals or other potential dangers.
“We know that people are so excited to be in the park, and perhaps see the first bison that they’ve seen in their life, but what we’ve learned is that people want to get closer and closer to get a photo with that animal.
Through the pledge, park officials ask that people stay a distance of at least 25 yards from bison or elk.
Animals aren’t the only issues to be aware of, she said. In fact, the pledge also addresses the thermal areas of Yellowstone – the areas that include several geyser basins as well as other hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles.
“What we ask is that visitors stay on the boardwalks,” Warthin said. “It’s for their own safety and for the preservation of the park.”
Warthin noted how some of the most dangerous elements of the thermal areas can also be the most unassuming.
“They’re beautiful,” she said. “They’re deceiving though because oftentimes the waters are at boiling point of even hotter. So if someone was to point their finger in that water, they would immediately burn their finger and or worse.”
There are other aspects of the pledge to consider, too, particularly parts that apply to RVers.
For example, always follow the speed limits and allow other vehicles to pass when appropriate.
“The roads are not as wide and speed limits are slow,” she said. “We ask people to be very aware of their actions and drive as they would in their own hometown.”
Here are some other resources that will help RVers plan their visit: