CODY, Wyoming (Reuters) - More people visited Yellowstone National Park last month than any September previously, and the park has set a new annual visitation record with nearly three months still left in the year.
More than 3.8 million people have visited Yellowstone through the end of September, according to figures compiled by the National Park Service. That shatters the previous annual record of 3.6 million visitors set in 2010.
If October follows recent trends, Yellowstone could log more than 4 million visitors by the end of 2015.
The increased traffic, up 16 percent so far over last year, is bringing more international and urban tourists to Yellowstone, posing new challenges for how to keep visitors safe amidst 2.2 million acres (8,903 square km) filled with wild animals, scalding geysers, steep canyons and more vehicles than ever before.
Five tourists were injured this year by bison, including some who got too close while attempting to take photos with the large, unpredictable animals. A man hiking alone and off-trail in August was killed by a grizzly bear.
Yellowstone spokeswoman Julena Campbell said the busy year has been obvious from “just moving around the park. “
Summer traffic was so heavy at times around hotels, geysers and other major attractions that parking lots were full by mid-day, forcing visitors to park along roadsides.
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk is planning to visit gateway communities in the coming months to discuss ways to alleviate some of the peak summer congestion at park entrances and in other places, Campbell said.
More traffic puts a strain on park resources, but it also results in more fees collected at park gates. Yellowstone could end up taking in an additional $4.5 million this year from increased entrance fees and higher visitor numbers, Campbell said.
The park is located mainly in Wyoming, with parts extending to Montana and Idaho.
Reporting by Ruffin Prevost in Cody, Wyoming; Editing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles