Planning ahead in Grand Teton National Park
A long fence line of gneiss, limestone and dolomite rising to nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, the winding Teton Range in western Wyoming grabs your attention every time you see it, not just the first time. The linear range that marks much of the state’s border with Idaho is captivating, whether you’re a climber, skier, hiker or just someone who marvels at nature.
While the mountains have largely survived well, with some relatively minor changes due to recent rockfall and glaciers due to climate change, the national park that includes the mountains, flats, lakes and streams beneath them has been affected by increasing numbers of visitors bombing the trails and structures. Tense infrastructure, crowded views and main facilities.
These are problems that are not unique to Grand Teton National Park, but are known to many other parks. They may not be considered problems, but rather known and often expected problems that come with the popularity of national parks.
Grand Teton shared that popularity. In 1985, when then-Deputy Superintendent Marshall Gingery said the national parks were “loved to death,” Grand Teton counted 1.3 million visitors. Last year, 2022, the number rose to 2.8 million (18,000 per day in summer) after rising to more than 3.8 million in 2021, the year after the Covid pandemic sent millions into nature. Over the past five years, lane use has increased by 44 percent.
Busy, but not a problem
But the numbers are not seen as disturbing.
“T“The numbers where we are currently are sustainable,” Grand Teton Superintendent Chip Jenkins told The New York Times. Traveling During this week’s podcast. “The question is, what will the future bring, right?”
The supervisor and his staff view visitation numbers not “like a thermometer where the number goes up or down… but more like a balloon because visitation occupies time and space.” Over the years, visitation trends have changed somewhat and this balloon has pressed into different areas of the park, he said.
“He was “Seeing more people traveling trails and going into the backcountry is more than just a percentage increase in terms of visits,” he said. “And we’re seeing people reactivating differently. We’re seeing people behaving differently on the scene. So we’re trying to get a better understanding of what that means in terms of relationships with wildlife, and what that means in terms of quality of visitor experience, so we can think about how to adapt Managing us as we move into the future.
The National Park Service has not sat idly by over the years watching visitation grow, but it has reacted to some associated issues and moved proactively to address others.
“I think the reality is that the National Park Service has been actively managing visitation in Grand Teton for over 90 years,” the superintendent said. “You know, there’s been a long history of the idea of making the Outer Park Road (US 89/191/26) the place for rapid transit, where people wanted to go. The Inner Park Road (Teton Park Road) is much slower, more meditative. As you know, in 1971, the master plan for the park that was completed actually specified that there was a limit in terms of suitable overnight accommodations, and in fact a cap on overnight accommodations was put in place in 1971.
“So the number of hotel room cabins, the number of campgrounds and campsites were limited at that time, and we are continuing to work with that limit,” Jenkins continued. “In the 1980s, the park completed a backcountry management plan that codified the use of the backcountry permit, where we had a set number of people spending the night not just in the backcountry, but in different areas. And then, as we move forward into the 1990s, in the decade In the 2000s, the Lawrence S. Rockefeller Preserve was donated to the park, and in the process of doing so, there was a visitation capacity set that was tied to the size of the parking lot there, and “we continue to make that happen. On busy days, we are literally staffed as we can, so once the parking lot is full, one car has to leave before another car can pull up and park. String Lake is another place where we continue to manage adaptively, and again, carrying capacity is related to the size of the parking lot.”
With the help of the Grand Teton National Park Foundation, the Park Service nine years ago embarked on an extensive rehabilitation of the Jenny Lake area, from rebuilding trails on the flanks of the Tetons to improving visitor facilities and trails along the lake’s shores. Recently, again with the help of the Foundation, the park has been preserving history on Mormon Row on the east side of the park and is currently improving access to the Snake River for paddlers and anglers.
Somewhat surprisingly, despite the park’s natural grandeur, the bulk of visits come in the form of day trips. Only about 15 percent of park visitors spend a night in the park, Jenkins said. Many come from Jackson, Wyoming, to hike, canoe, hunt for wildlife, or stop on the way to or from Yellowstone National Park a little to the north.
He explained that in one context, visitors might spend 6 to 8 hours in the park. Looking at it from another perspective, the social and economic impact, visitors might stay in the area for about four days, with time spent in Jackson, in the park, even Yellowstone, or in surrounding national forest lands, the superintendent said.
Getting a tighter grip on understanding visitor behavior is something park staff have focused on. Staff continue to develop their visitor studies to better understand what they are doing and where they are going. One takeaway from these studies is that “more than half of visitors experience some type of crowding at major destinations (such as Jenny Lake or Strange Lake) during their visit to the park.” However, “[O]nly a small number of visitors reported crowding as a major or severe problem, but many visitors reported it as a minor to moderate problem.”
Later this fall will come a public comment period on how to redevelop the popular Colter Bay area to improve the visitor experience. More than a dozen years ago, in 2012, the National Park Service planned to embark on a similar study, but it gained no interest. The resulting environmental assessment focused largely on traffic and parking issues, Jenkins said.
“WWe see that we need to take a more comprehensive look at Colter Bay and how we can really try to use this place, meaning restore it as one of the primary centers of gravity for a day visit in the park,” the superintendent said. “What types of visitor experience do we want to provide there? Water recreation? Access to trails? Of course, quality overnight visiting. Seeing whether or not there is interest from tribes to expand the business and share tribal heritage and culture.”
“It was originally designed to be very car-centric. So, if you go to Colter Bay, you feel like you need to be in your car and driving everywhere. I think we want to create an experience that makes it more pedestrian- and bike-centric, and encourages people to come “And park their cars once and get out and drive around Coulter Bay.”
Colter Bay also holds the park’s largest concentration of lodging, from historic log cabins and tent cabins to campgrounds that can handle tent camps, RVers, and even bike camps. It remains to be seen whether the park service will review those cabins and their amenities more closely, or even increase the number, though the superintendent said there is currently no discussion about increasing accommodations there.
“W“We are very early in the planning process,” Jenkins said. “And what we’re aiming for is to start in early November through December, and we’ll open it up to the public domain. So people have asked, ‘What are the topics? What are the issues? What are the opportunities that people think they would like to address or explore in Coulter Bay?’ So this will be a great time to be able to Submit your comments.”
Traveler’s Entourage: Watch our entire conversation, Episode 240.
(tags for translation) Grand Teton National Park