St. Anthony Church in Cody, Wyoming has been informed by Yellowstone National Park officials that for the first time in 60 years priests cannot stay overnight in the park, but they can still hold weekend services for visitors.
Prior to the notice, priests have stayed overnight in an RV trailer to make hosting public church services more convenient for the traveling priests but there is no more room for them.
Rev. Charles Heston share with Cowboy State Daily, “For 60 years we have been parking there. A priest goes there, stays there in Old Faithful. We explain everything, and all [the park] says is, ‘This is the way now, this is the way now.’”
Overall, the church has been providing services since 1922 in Yellowstone National Park in some capacity. Previous to this year, St. Anthony clergy would stay in Yellowstone National Park on Saturday nights after an afternoon Saturday service. They would provide three different services on Sundays in the park, making it the most convenient way to offer services to park visitors. Heston said that the clergy members would stay in an RV parked outside of Old Faithful.
During the pandemic in 2020, Yellowstone had to cut off the services due to COVID-19 concerns. Since the summers since, the church was given a similar reason. Yellowstone Park officials have let St. Anthony Church know that the overnight ban stays permanent because there is not enough space for the church’s staff to stay in their RV.
Heston said, “They keep saying, ‘This is the way now, this is the way now.’ What can we do?”
Heston voiced that the park’s decision has been particularly frustrating because the parking lot where the church parks their RV at stayed relatively empty last summer.
Yellowstone spokesperson, Morgan Warthin said that employee housing has become a concern for the park. This issue has been a longstanding problem for them that has been amplified by housing and rental prices in gateway communities that surround Yellowstone National Park.
“We cannot, and are not able to give an RV site or employee housing to that group or to any group, really, that requests through a special use permit,” shared Warthin. “We just do not have the capacity in housing or RV sites to accommodate those needs.”
Since 2000, Yellowstone National Park visitation has increased by 45%, which has created a high demand on the park to have more staff to manage park operations. Warthin also said that the park is researching potential areas for new lodging, which would only be developed in already existing areas. Recently, the park converted 3 eight-plex utility/storage areas into one-bedroom apartments. They are also investigating housing lease options in the gateway communities of Gardiner and West Yellowstone, Montana.

According to Warthin, employee RV spots are considered part of the employee housing options and with a lack of parking availability in the area of Old Faithful, the park has to prevent the church from keeping an RV in a lot.
Yellowstone’s Visitor Resource and Protection Division was the ultimate decision maker on the RV ruling, which which grants or denies permits for special use for various activities inside the park. Due to the decision, Heston said the clergy and him must now make an extra 200-mile round trip from Cody to the park offer park visitors church services. Despite this added strain, the church is determined to carry on the legacy of church services in Yellowstone National Park.
“We come back to Cody [on Saturday] and then again [come back] on Sunday morning, and then again driving out,” said Heston.
St. Anthony’s three priests are planning on taking turns to Yellowstone every weekend to hold services.
With twelve locations in Yellowstone National Park, people or groups can exercise their First Amendment rights to demonstrations in the park. The park is also continuing to approve various special use permits for the church and other groups.
Heston shared with Cowboy State Daily, “It’s [because of] our country’s religious freedom that we say Mass.” Since 1910, St. Anthony has been providing services for Catholics in the Big Horn Basin with Holy Mass at Yellowstone’s Fishing Bridge on Saturdays, and offers services on Sunday mornings at Old Faithful and Lake Lodge, and the outdoor amphitheater at Bridge Bay on Sunday afternoons. Occasionally they offer Saturday evening services at the Canyon Amphitheatre, within a mile of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon with services sometimes drawing a crowd as many as 50 people.
Back to Top