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North, northeast entrances to Yellowstone likely closed through summer

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Gateway communities face harsh impacts after floods wash away park roads

Conditions of Yellowstone’s North Entrance Road on June 14, 2022, through the Gardner Canyon between Gardiner, Montana, and Mammoth Hot Springs. NPS VIDEO/DOUG KRAUS

By Bella Butler MANAGING EDITOR

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS – No more visitors will likely pass beneath the Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance this summer after floods washed away entire sections of the road inside the park’s boundary on Monday, according to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly. The park remains closed as the National Park Service works to assess damages.

Heavy rain and snowmelt over the weekend caused mass flood events on Monday throughout much of southern Montana, including the Northern Range of Yellowstone. NPS closed all entrances to the park Monday morning.

While the full scope of damage is yet to be determined, Sholly said at a Tuesday press conference, the park will likely not reopen the road between the North Entrance in Gardiner and Northeast Entrance in Cooke City for the rest of the summer season. Pending further assessments, Sholly said, the goal is to open the park’s Southern Loop and its West, South and East entrances within the next week.

The two Park County gateway communities of Gardiner and Cooke City now face a grim reality after having their primary sources of income washed away.

“The landscape has literally and figuratively changed in the last 36 hours,” said Park County Commissioner Bill Berg at the press conference. “Gardiner is a Yellowstone town and it lives and dies by tourism.”

On the heels of both the Gardner and Yellowstone rivers flooding, the town of Gardiner became isolated Monday after the road through the park as well as U.S. Highway 89 in Paradise Valley closed. This left what Sholly reported as “several thousand” visitors stranded in Gardiner and a rough count of 10,000 stranded inside the park.

U.S. 89 has since opened to slow-moving egress traffic and Sholly said that as of Tuesday evening nearly all visitors had been evacuated from the park save one group of backcountry users in the Northern Range who have been contacted and reached.

“Supplies at the grocery store [in Gardiner] were dwindling,” Berg said. “Hotels certainly were willing and able to serve visitors another day but restaurant provisions were almost entirely gone so it was critical that we were finally were able to get people out of Gardiner.”

Photos of a 5-mile stretch of road between the North Entrance and Mammoth Hot Spring show large chunks of road eaten away by the swollen river. Sholly said because the flooding may have permanently changed the course of the river, it may not be possible to rebuild that section of road where it was before, nor would it be wise.

Flooding washes out Northeast Entrance Road near Trout Lake Trailhead on June 13, 2022. NPS VIDEO/JACOB W. FRANK

“We are looking at pulling the road potentially away from the river and putting it on a completely different alignment to make a better investment and to avoid a similar issue in the future,” he said.

In addition to roads, flooding has also impacted bridges, water and sewer as well as power infrastructure, the park superintendent added. While the park service has yet to confirm, Sholly said, it’s likely that a compromised sewer system may be leaking into the Yellowstone River and the park service is working with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to address any potential discharge.

Though reprieve may be near for the three other park gateway communities of West Yellowstone along with Cody and Jackson in Wyoming, Gardiner and Cooke City have likely lost their most lucrative seasons.

“To make a living in Gardiner, which I expect is true in all the gateway communities, you have to budget pretty hard,” Berg said. “You have to make hay while the sun shines and you have to hang on to your cash over the winter so that you can afford to open the doors in the spring … It’s going to be pretty tough for Gardiner businesses to recover from. And that’s not even to mention the impact of the infrastructure.”

In terms of relief for these communities, Berg said they’re “just getting started.” He suggested one way people can support businesses in these towns now is by purchasing gift cards to get cash in their registers.

After several rivers in southern Montana neared—and in some cases exceeded—record flows, waters began dropping again today. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster on Tuesday due to the flooding. Sholly said that among “conflicting predictions” about what the rest of the week will bring, the area is still vulnerable to the threat of continued flooding with warming temperatures and continued precipitation in the forecast.

“You can see by the pictures, it’s extensive,” he said, “but we will not know exactly what the timelines are, what the costs are, or any of that information until we get teams on the ground and can actually assess what happened and what it’s going to take to repair it.”

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