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While the Wyoming entrances can open Monday, Yellowstone National Park’s three Montana entrances won’t open until June 1 at the earliest, putting pressure on the businesses in those gateway towns that depend on tourists to get by.

“We have such a limited amount of time here to make our businesses work because we’re such a seasonal business area,” said Jill Warren, the president of the board of the Colter Pass, Cooke City and Silver Gate Chamber of Commerce.

The coronavirus pandemic has already hit tourism businesses hard, and towns on the edge of the world’s first national park have not been exempt. The longer the park stays closed, the more the moneymaking window shrinks for businesses in West Yellowstone, Gardiner and Cooke City-Silver Gate.

Cooke City-Silver Gate is at the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, one of the three that will remain closed until at least June 1. The community is in an especially precarious position — though the town is in Montana, all roads that lead to Cooke City-Silver Gate wind into Wyoming, and all who leave the state of Montana are supposed to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.

“We are incredibly unique in that, in order to reach us from either side, you have to go out of state,” said Warren. “What we would really like to see as a business community is to have Montana people be able to visit us ... We would love to see some sort of allowance from the state to let Montanans come here and frequent our businesses so we could at least see some economic activity.”

The town of West Yellowstone sits at the west entrance to the park, normally the busiest of all five entrances. Businesses in West, like in all other gateway towns, depend on the influx of visitors during the summer to get through the slow months during the off season.

“It was a little disappointing that the Montana gateway communities weren’t included in that phase one opening, but we completely understand where the park is coming from,” said West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce marketing director Wendy Swenson. “We were hoping for a more definitive opening date.”

Swenson said businesses are anticipating opening and are hoping that, while the park remains closed, Montanans will make the journey to West to fish, hike and bike the trails that are now open.

“Part of it for us too is staffing and what we can make available for those visitors, whether it’s the number of hotel rooms or the restaurants being open,” she said. “We’re just looking forward to when we can open.”

Bob Jacklin has owned Jacklin’s Fly Shop in West Yellowstone since 1974. He’s planning to open his shop Friday in anticipation of the fishing season beginning Saturday, but he doesn’t expect the same number of customers as years past until the park entrance reopens.

“The park is the main thing for us in West Yellowstone,” Jacklin said. “Once that closes, everybody shuts down. Once that opens, we’re open.”

Jacklin said fishermen will likely still come through town and frequent his shop even with the park being closed, and he’s ready with disinfectant, face masks and social distancing rules for when they do come.

“Some of these fishermen are really interested in fishing,” he said. “They’re going to come.”

Fishing trips through Jacklin’s might look different this summer than in years past to help keep both his customers and his guides safe. All the reservations for trips in June have been canceled, but he said his shop is seeing some reservations for July.

“We’re probably going to suggest people take their own vehicles,” he said. “If they’re going to float, (boats) have to be cleaned and sterilized and the guy running the boat, make sure he’s in good shape.”

The town of Gardiner sits at the north entrance to the park. Terese Petcoff, executive director of the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce, said the uncertainty of an opening date is a major source of anxiety for the businesses in that community.

“When Montana does open to out-of-state travelers and the Montana gates to Yellowstone reopen, it needs to be done safely,” Petcoff said. “But with everything being so unknown, it’s so hard to advertise and to market your business.”

Petcoff said that some business in Gardiner may be facing bankruptcy and other financial hardships because of the “unprecedented” loss of business, but that the chamber is hoping to help any businesses in that position.

“Yellowstone being closed, simply put, is going to hurt businesses and is hurting businesses,” she said.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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