Yellowstone Fights to Survive

ByABC News
August 5, 2002, 5:24 PM

Y E L L O W S T O N E  N A T I O N A L  P A R K, Wyo., Aug. 5 -- Every morning and then again at noon and sunset, thousands of tourists gather around the base of Old Faithful to watch the famous geyser put on a show.

Joella Vitek and her sister Ann, who live in San Diego, marvel at the spectacle.

"You have to be grateful to the people who started the park system," said Ann Vitek. "It is a treasure for us and for our children. Yellowstone's a place where you don't have to spend a lot of money and you see things you can't see anywhere else in the world."

This summer, a lot of vacationers agree. In fact, attendance records may be broken: More than 3 million people are expected to visit the park by the end of the season.

John Siple, a policeman from Chicago, brought his family to "get closer to nature." As he and his wife took pictures of their children near a bison grazing in an open field, he couldn't believe his luck. "I never thought we'd ever get this close to the animals," he said. "It's a fantastic place to be."

Yellowstone is the world's first national park, created in 1872, and one of the biggest. It stretches across volcanic plateaus in northwest Wyoming and into southern Montana and Idaho, and contains more than 2 million acres of geysers, lakes, waterfalls, forests, bison, bears and tourists.

And this year, due to many Americans' lingering fear of terrorism and desire to stay closer to home, visitors are showing up bumper-to-bumper. On one recent day, motorists driving through the park's Hayden Valley found themselves caught in a 2 ½-mile traffic jam. Actually, it was a "buffalo jam" created by two buffaloes that decided to stop in the middle of the highway.

"Wildlife at its best," said a woman from California as she leaned out of her SUV and snapped a photograph.

Staffing in Short Supply

The staff at Yellowstone is pleased by the number of visitors but distressed by the lack of staffing.

"We're having a very busy summer in West Yellowstone our arrivals are up nearly 20 percent," said Yellowstone Superintendent Suzanne Lewis. "But we may have to curtail the season by stopping some services before the visitor season ends."