The southern half of Yellowstone National Park reopened to the public as planned at 8 a.m. today, a week and a half after it closed due to severe flooding.
Cars were backed up half a mile from the East Gate, outside Cody, an hour before the park opened. The first RV to arrive — driven from Michigan by a family of six — had been parked in front of the gate since 10 the night before.
It was barely above freezing near the entrance, and many of the tourists meandering near the line wore winter coats or clutched blankets around their shoulders. Others huddled in their cars, turning them off to conserve gas and on again when it got too cold.
Rangers surveyed the line, checking in with people who had odd-numbered license plates (which are only allowed inside the park on odd-numbered days, as part of an effort to prevent overcrowding until a reservation system is in place) to make sure they had reservations inside the park.
When the barriers lifted, right on time, the hundreds of ranger-vetted cars and RVs — the first tourists to enter the park since the flooding — crept inside.
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Progress was slow, but steady. Many people had waited for more than a week to drive, at last, toward the snow-capped mountains and glassy lakes of the first U.S. national park.
“Right now, there is a sense of excitement to let people in, and have them enjoy the park and see what they came to see,” said Rebecca Roland, the Tower Lamar subdistrict ranger for resource education and youth programs, one of the rangers stationed at the East Gate this morning.
The National Park Service closed all five entrances to Yellowstone on June 13 as floodwaters washed out roads, damaged bridges and turned gateway communities near the northern edges of the park into temporary islands. Tourists who'd driven across the country to visit America's first national park were stranded at its gates.
On Saturday, park officials announced they would reopen three of the park's five entrances — the East, South and West gates — while implementing a system that used visitor's license plates to limit access to the park.
That step was necessary because only the southern loop is open to tourists again. The northern portion of the park, which suffered the worst damage, will take longer to reopen.
“I would like people to know not to cancel their reservations,” Roland said. “We're so excited to welcome them into the southern loop. They can still see everything that makes Yellowstone Yellowstone.”