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Yellowstone National Park says visits were up in 2021, but so were re-entries

A sign near Gardiner, Montana, sits near the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park, May 16, 2019.
Rachel Cramer
/
Yellowstone Public Radio/File photo

New numbers released by Yellowstone National Park on Friday indicate 2021 was a record year for recreational visits.

The park reported more than 4.8 million visits in 2021, which would be the busiest year on record. That’s a 28% increase from 2020, when Yellowstone was closed for nearly 2 months because of COVID-19.

But park officials say analysis of the visitor use data shows 350,000 more vehicles re-entered the park compared to pre-pandemic 2019. The park equates the increase in re-entries to fewer overnight park stays: There were about 20% fewer campsites and hotel rooms available compared to previous years.

"This translated to more visitors leaving the park to overnight elsewhere and then returning than in previous years," the park said in a news release.

Other statistics the park tracked — including trash tonnage, water usage and public safety calls — show actual 2021 visitation numbers were more in line with 2019, when there were just over 4 million visitors. The park says it's evaluating software to more accurately count new visits versus re-entries.

Yellowstone reported more than 4 million recreation visits in 5 of the last 6 years.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.