New study on Gardiner: Infrastructure upgrades improve visitor experience

By: 
Johnathan Hettinger —
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Photo by Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service

A rainbow appears between Roosevelt Arch and Yellowstone Forever in Gardiner, July 18.

Improved infrastructure is leading to visitors spending more money in Gardiner, including an increase in visitation to local attractions and rafting companies, according to a new study by the University of Montana.

A before-and-after study conducted by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research found that tourists are likely to have an improved experience in Gardiner, the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park, in 2018, than in 2013. In between, the town added new and improved sidewalks, parking slots, a new road to bypass the Roosevelt Arch and new signage.

Visitors were more likely to consider the town as pedestrian friendly and wellmaintained in 2018, with groups also spending $112.77 more per trip on average, the study found. The group sizes had increased on average from 3.8 people per group to 4.3 people, which likely led to the increase in spending, the report said. That spending was more likely on rafting by 10 percent and visiting Gardiner attractions by 12 percent.

The improved perception of Gardiner also included the storefronts and overall presentation of the town.

“The findings assured us, and possibly other communities contemplating infrastructure changes, that it can pay off in terms of economic development,” said Jeff Guengerich, Gardiner Chamber of Commerce president, in a news release. “Overall, we are pleased with these results.”

However, visitation increased very significantly between 2013 and 2018. For example, October 2018 was 29 percent busier than 2013. In the study, visitor’s perceptions that there was ample parking and an acceptable traffic flow did not improve in 2018, despite the infrastructure changes. In the study, visitors were also more likely to say Gardiner was a crowded place in 2018.

“That may be partly explained by the 22 percent increase in visitation to Yellowstone’s north entrance over that five-year time frame,” said ITRR Director Norma Nickerson.

The infrastructure improvements included making a county park capable of hosting larger events in Arch Park and helping improve flows into the entrance of Yellowstone.