Yellowstone evacuates visitors, contemplates how flooding will reshape summer tourism
After severe flooding in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas, park officials have cleared out nearly all visitors and said some areas will remain closed for the rest of the season.
Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the northern portion of the park saw the most damage. That's where the Gardner and Lamar rivers swelled to record levels and washed out roads and bridges.
At least one section of Yellowstone's major northern road will likely remain closed for the rest of the season, Sholly said, raising questions about how the park will manage summer crowds. Last year about two millions people visited Yellowstone in July and August alone.
“One thing that we definitely know is that half the park cannot support all of the visitation,” Sholly said.
He said the park may implement timed entry or a reservation system.
About two inches of rain fell over the weekend, accelerating snowmelt that amounted to about five and a half inches, Sholly said. And he anticipates more snowmelt in the coming days with temperatures expected to climb into the 70s and 80s beginning Thursday.
Floodwaters cut off the gateway town of Gardiner, Montana, leaving residents and several thousand visitors stranded – and the local economy adrift.
“It’s a company town, it’s a Yellowstone town, and it lives and dies by tourism,” Park County Commissioner Bill Berg said Tuesday. “This is going to be a pretty big hit.”
Last summer some Gardiner businesses broke records as travel surged between waves of COVID-19, Berg said, but the flooding means many businesses now can’t afford their seasonal staff as visitors cancel reservations and request refunds.
Meanwhile, floodwaters flowing into northwestern Wyoming threatened three bridges, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation's Cody Beers.
“The water was right at the bridge girders, threatening to start impacting the bridges," Beers said of a bridge over the Clarks Fork River, a tributary of the Yellowstone River. "We had guys on all three bridges last night moving debris, which included trees, bushes and shrubs.”
The bridges held and he said Wyoming roads outside the park are open, as of Tuesday.
Beers says he’s seen the videos and pictures of rivers collapsing roads and taking out bridges inside Yellowstone, and he estimates some of the damage will take a year or two to repair.
But the park has barely begun to assess the extensive damage. Sholly hopes that process can start in earnest early next week after water recedes. He did not offer estimates for repair costs or timelines.
"The National Park Service will make every effort to repair these roads as soon as possible; however, it is probable that road sections in northern Yellowstone will not reopen this season due to the time required for repairs," the park said in a news release Tuesday evening.
⚠️UPDATE (6/14 @ 6:38pm)⚠️— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) June 15, 2022
Northern portion of Yellowstone likely to remain closed for substantial length of time due to severely damaged, impacted infrastructure. Visitors traveling to park soon must stay informed about current situation, roads & weather https://t.co/mymnqGvcVB pic.twitter.com/li6Vwy4qLt
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.