Opening Yellowstone in the Spring Is a Massive Undertaking

Every spring, Yellowstone National Park (the world’s first national park), clears approximately 320 miles of park roads in preparation for the many thousands of people that will soon visit.

These roads are covered with snow and ice and aren’t regularly plowed during the winter, so it is a massive undertaking.

Yellowstone’s snowpack this winter season of 2017-18 has been average at some parts to well-above average at others. At some elevations in the park, the snowpack was almost double the normal snowfall. Needless to say, Yellowstone had a bunch of snow to clear, which is not a simple process.

A view from one of the many trucks in Yellowstone currently working on clearing the roads. Photo: Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone strategically works within the park clearing those roads first and then move out to the highways that bring visitors to the park using a combination of heavy equipment.

Often bulldozers that drag wedge plows (which forces snow and ice to the sides of the roads) will break up the snow, and then they break out the groomers.

They also use rotary plows with large circular blades that can break up 5.5 feet (depth) of snow. Finally, the road graders then come in and “peel” remaining ice. (And then Yellowstone let’s the sun take care of the rest.)

Sometimes the plowing at Yellowstone can feel endless. Photo courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

Superintendent Dan Wenk reminds us that this annual clearing is part of where the park fees are used.

“Yellowstone uses revenues from entrance fees collected to improve visitor facilities,” Wenk told ASN. “Visitors benefit when park roads, trails and boardwalks are maintained and provide access to the park’s treasures.”

Plowing started during the first week of March and will continue through the end of May (or as soon as they clear the Beartooth Highway). But from the looks at those snowbanks, it might take a while.

Now that is a snowbank! Photo: Courtesy of Yellowstone National Park

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