February 13, 2012
North Entrance Plans Taking Shape
Take three steps out the door of a Park Street business in Gardiner, Montana and you are standing in Yellowstone National Park. You are also standing in a public street that serves nearly 700,000 visitors who pass through the park's North Entrance each year (see map). This relatively traffic-free street can become congested and confusing during the peak summer season – not an ideal welcome to this historic gateway to Yellowstone.
The approach to Yellowstone’s North Entrance has seen few changes since the park opened to automobiles in the 1920s. Overcrowding, vehicle congestion and pedestrian safety are now major concerns for the National Park Service; at times, gate traffic backs up for more than a mile – through the Roosevelt Arch, into Gardiner, and over the Yellowstone River bridge. Plus, visitors who wish to view or photograph the iconic Arch -- or enjoy watching wildlife that wander the area -- have no safe viewing area off the road (see photo, below left).
In 2010, the Yellowstone Park Foundation (YPF) helped fund a design charrette -- a synergistic workshop -- which gathered architecture and planning students and professionals from across the country. Their assignment was to reimagine the Gardiner entrance and explore other design options in the Mammoth Hot Springs area. Utilizing this effort, the park started an environmental review of the entrance to plan solutions for its redesign. The centerpiece of the planning effort focused on the famous Roosevelt Arch, dedicated on April 24, 1903 and now a National Historic Landmark.
In 2011, YPF granted funds for a portion of the professional design and engineering for the approved redesign for the North Entrance Project, with work slated to start in summer 2012.
A special partnership is forming around the new North Entrance plan that includes the park, the Gardiner community, and state and county agencies. Close collaboration is important because a large portion of the project is literally at the front door of businesses, a state highway, the school, and the only local park (see photo, right). It is a unique situation since it is the park entrance that most closely abuts a community’s downtown area.
The unincorporated community of Gardiner – which has a year-round population of just 850 -- has a new citizen’s council that is helping lead the effort. The council is working with Yellowstone National Park to help plan community improvements that tie in, and are associated with, plans for a new North Entrance. The goal is to preserve the historic landscape while improving safety, accessibility, and improve the visitor experience. The partnership seeks a vision for a new “Gardiner Gateway,” a grand entrance for both Yellowstone and the historic community of Gardiner.
Undated photographs of Roosevelt Arch. Left: Old Gardiner train depot; Right: Visitors entering the park via stagecoach. Photos courtesy of NPS.