Yellowstone National Park to reopen after destructive flooding

Record floods wiped out roads and left areas inaccessible for months

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Visitors will return to a changed landscape in Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday as it partially reopens after being submerged by record floodwaters.

The extensive flooding reshaped the park’s rivers and canyons, wiped out numerous roads and left some areas popular for their wildlife vantage points inaccessible, potentially for months to come.

Park managers were scheduled to open the gates at 8am at three of Yellowstone’s five entrances for the first time since June 13, when 10,000 visitors were ordered to leave after rivers across northern Wyoming and southern Montana burst their banks following a torrent of rainfall that accelerated the spring snowmelt.

Some of the premier attractions at America’s first national park will again be viewable, including Old Faithful — the legendary geyser that shoots towering bursts of steaming water almost like clockwork more than a dozen times a day.

But the bears, wolves and bison that roam the wild Lamar Valley and the thermal features around Mammoth Hot Springs will remain out of reach. The wildlife-rich northern half of the park will be closed until July at the earliest, while key routes into the park remain severed near the Montana tourist towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge and Cooke City.

It is unknown how many visitors will show up in the immediate aftermath of the flooding. Managers had been braced for throngs as the park celebrated its 150th anniversary one year after it registered a record 4.9 million visits.

“We get a million people a month in July and August,” Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said. “You can’t get a full visitation in half the park.”

The reopening comes as officials in Yellowstone are still counting the cost of the damage. Based on other national park disasters, it could take years and carry a steep price tag to rebuild. The park has an environmentally sensitive landscape with a huge underground plumbing system that feeds into the geysers, hot springs and various thermal features.

“We have to remain optimistic but we also have to remain realistic that there’s a lot of things going on and a lot of moving pieces to make it happen,” said Tim Weamer, who is involved in marketing for the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce.

“We're optimistic that we'll survive. We're not going to have the summer we were hoping for.”

For others the rebound may come faster. Yellowstone tour guide Derek Draimin said he was fully booked up on Wednesday with four groups heading into the park.

“I think there will be cars stacked up trying to get in, to be the first people to enter the park after the thousand-year flood,” he said.

Mr Draimin lost about 25 tours because of the flood and says potential visitors might be deterred, thinking the park is badly damaged. But with most of the vast expanse expected to be accessible within weeks, Mr Draimin said it was possible that business would get a bump as tourists who cannot get in through the park’s northern entrances are funnelled through West Yellowstone, where his company, Yellowstone Adventure Tours, is based.

“I have no idea what to expect," he said. “I could see both things happening.”

Updated: June 22, 2022, 3:24 PM
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