Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks close to visitors

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks close to visitors

From the Here's how state and local governments are responding to the coronavirus pandemic series

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks announced Monday that they are closing to all park visitors until further notice.

The closures went into effect immediately. No visitors will be allowed to enter either park, though state highways and roads that transcend park boundaries will remain open. So will facilities that "support life, safety and commerce," according to the park's announcement. 

The closure announcement comes after health officials in two Wyoming counties and two Montana counties called on Yellowstone's superintendent to close the park.

“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail said in joint statement. “We are committed to continued close coordination with our state and local partners as we progress through this closure period and are prepared when the timing is right to reopen as quickly and safely as possible.”

Health officials from Park and Teton counties in Wyoming and Park and Gallatin counties in Montana had all requested the change.

The local health officials had expressed concern that encouraging tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic could spread the virus, the Billings Gazette and Missoulian reported.

“Our shared ability to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak will be greatly complicated and imperiled by the arrival of thousands of tourists to our community,” wrote Matt Kelley, health officer for Gallatin County, in a letter dated March 22.

Park officials said they would notify the public when the parks resume full operations.

The decision to close the parks to visitors comes amid widespread closures around the region. In Wyoming, for instance, schools are closed through early April. And last week, Gov. Mark Gordon and the state's top health official ordered a two-week closure of many businesses where people tend to congregate, including bars, gyms and museums.

Sholly's decision came only a day after he announced in a press release that "Yellowstone has received a substantial number requests to temporarily close, from state and local partners, including the governors of Montana and Wyoming, health officials from all surrounding counties, and local government leadership.

"The park began receiving these requests late in the day on Sunday, March 22, through (Monday) and we immediately began conversing with National Park Service and the Department of the Interior to determine the best course of action," he continued. "I have been in direct contact with the governors, many local leaders, and health officials within our gateway communities and counties. Contrary to a few press articles written (Monday), the park is taking these requests from our local partners very seriously and will communicate decisions in the near future." 

Videos: 360 degrees of Yellowstone National Park

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