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Yellowstone National Park will partially reopen Wednesday after historic floods

Yellowstone's North Entrance Road was washed out by flooding.
National Park Service via Getty
Yellowstone's North Entrance Road was washed out by flooding.

Yellowstone National Park will partially reopen this week, days after a series of historic floods damaged roads, buildings and infrastructure throughout the park.

In an update posted Saturday, park officials wrote that visitors will be allowed in through the park's three southernmost entrances starting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Entry will be limited by a license plate number system.

"Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our teams and partners, we are prepared to reopen the south loop of Yellowstone. It is impossible to reopen only one loop in the summer without implementing some type of system to manage visitation," said Cam Sholly, the park's superintendent, in a press release.

The park will limit the number of visitors with an alternating license plate system, officials said. If the final license plate number on a vehicle is odd, that vehicle may enter on odd days of the month. Even-numbered plates, including zero, may enter on even days of the month. (Custom plates with all letters will be considered odd for entrance purposes.) Commercial vehicles and people with reservations will be allowed in.

Park officials will turn away vehicles that do not comply, they said.

The license plate system is designed "to ensure the south loop does not become overwhelmed with visitors and to balance park resource protection and economic interests of surrounding communities," officials wrote.

"We have made tremendous progress in a very short amount of time but have a long way to go," Sholly said.

The main route through Yellowstone takes the shape of a figure eight. The most severe damage affected the northern loop, which includes the Lamar Valley and Mammoth Hot Springs.

Roads in the northern loop were washed away in multiple places. Others were blocked by mudslides and downed trees. The gateway town of Gardiner, Mont., just outside the park's northernmost entrance, was cut off from road access for 24 hours, and drinking water infrastructure in the area is still damaged.

"We anticipate this area of the park will likely remain closed for a substantial length of time," officials wrote in an update posted to the park website.

The southern loop, set to reopen Wednesday, includes some of the park's most recognizable features, like the Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful and the historic Old Faithful Inn.

Summer is Yellowstone's busiest season by far. More than a million visitors came to Yellowstone in July 2021, the park's busiest month on record.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.