TOP STORIES Attendance at Yellowstone National Park plummets due to road...

Attendance at Yellowstone National Park plummets due to road washout in June

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Improvements to Old Gardiner Road in Yellowstone National Park on July 20, 2022.

Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service


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Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service


Improvements to Old Gardiner Road in Yellowstone National Park on July 20, 2022.

Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service

GARDINER, Mont. Tourism in Yellowstone National Park has dropped by about 40% this summer after devastating floods razed roads in and around the park in June. The cities at two of the five entrances to the park were completely cut off from it.

Raging flood waters have washed away large sections of paved roads in and around the park, and the northern entrance from nearby Gardiner, Montana is now closed. It is expected that this will be the case for at least another couple of years.

“Without access to the park, Gardiner’s economy was falling apart,” said Emile McCain, owner of a wildlife conservation company.

Although no vehicles are allowed, hikers can walk or cycle one mile along the road to the park’s north entrance, where you can see the washouts.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


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Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


Although no vehicles are allowed, hikers can walk or cycle one mile along the road to the park’s north entrance, where you can see the washouts.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio

“Without entering the national park, people had little desire to stay at our lodges, eat at our restaurants, or even participate in other activities such as rafting or horseback riding,” he explained.

Gardiner has a population of about 900, but every summer, the city, located on the banks of the Yellowstone River, overflows with thousands of visitors who stay at hotels and patronize businesses that rely almost entirely on park visitors.

In July, the park opened a lifeline to repair an old dirt road from Gardiner to Yellowstone that is normally only used by cyclists, hikers and one-way vehicles.

It took a ton of heavy machinery to make it more manageable, but the Park Service is now allowing a limited number of guide service vehicles to use the road to bring tourists to the park. It is still closed to private vehicles.

After the flood, Yellowstone Wild, a wildlife tour company, phased out private tours and began offering public tours so that people visiting Gardiner could access the park.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


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Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


After the flood, Yellowstone Wild, a wildlife tour company, phased out private tours and began offering public tours so that people visiting Gardiner could access the park.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio

Wildlife tour guide Matt DeMassino says Old Gardiner Road dates back to the stagecoach era.

“This is exactly the route that Teddy Roosevelt would have taken to the park in 1903,” DeMassino said. “And before that, Chester A. Arthur, the first president to visit the park, walked in here, so I’ll start calling it the President’s Route.”

Great experience for multiple backpackers

The road winds its way through sagebrush hills to the massive steaming mineral deposits at Mammoth Hot Springs.

On a recent road trip, on a still untouched stretch of paved road, a guide driving a van full of tourists stopped in a vast green landscape to observe wildlife. After all the rain the park had before the flood, the foliage is much greener than usual at the end of July.

An elk nestled among the willows by the stream, while Harry Buys from the Netherlands watched the black bear through binoculars. He and son Jean Leon saw Yellowstone for the first time.

Jean Leon and his father, Harry Buis, look closely at cubs basking in the sun as they wake up in the morning sun in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


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Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


Jean Leon and his father, Harry Buis, look closely at cubs basking in the sun as they wake up in the morning sun in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio

“I liked the animals we saw and was very surprised that we saw wolves. I did not expect this,” said Jean Leon.

During a typical summer, this northern loop of park roads is often jammed with cars, which pile up along the narrow exits when wildlife is spotted.

Lynn Harvey, who was visiting from Texas, planned to come to the park in a rental car. She didn’t find out that the North Entrance was closed to Gardiner until she arrived in Montana. Instead, she signed up for the tour and was not disappointed.

“And with rafting and trips to the park, I don’t think you’re missing out on anything,” she said. “We don’t feel like we missed out on anything other than driving, and I’m glad.”

On a recent weekend, 30 of these excursions entered the park through the Gardiner entrance. That’s compared to about 1,700 cars on a typical summer day.

The park works to help neighboring cities

Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholley says the goal is to open up as much of the park as possible for the benefit of tourists and businesses that depend on their spending, which is more than $230 million a year in that part of the park alone.

“Anything we can do to restore some level of access to these communities as quickly as possible is critical to us,” Scholley said.

In its second year of operation, the food truck and music venue near Yellowstone’s north entrance decided to remain open after the flood.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


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Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


In its second year of operation, the food truck and music venue near Yellowstone’s north entrance decided to remain open after the flood.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio

He says it will likely be years before the park entrance at Gardiner is finally refurbished. For now, the park is trying to strike a balance between allowing guides to use Old Gardiner Road and making sure construction crews can pave it for tourists to start using it this fall.

“We all know this is not going to be normal,” Scholley said. “We also know that it can’t just be wide open on Old Gardiner Road because if we don’t give these contractors time to work and they don’t finish the road before winter, it will create a whole host of other problems. that we have to deal with.”

Tourist-dependent businesses in Gardiner are grateful that the park has regained at least some access, but the Chamber of Commerce’s Teresa Petkoff says the park’s 30 or so tours each day won’t be able to keep all of the city’s businesses afloat.

“Let’s say you’re a farmer, it’s like all your fields go down the drain,” she said. “That’s how I would compare it to people who aren’t local or who haven’t dealt with the tourism economy.”

Four hotels and three restaurants in Gardiner have already closed.

The 41-person Absaroka Lodge in Gardiner was booking an average of 5 to 10 bookings per night in July.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio


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The 41-person Absaroka Lodge in Gardiner was booking an average of 5 to 10 bookings per night in July.

Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio

Absaroka Lodge, built right above the banks of the Yellowstone River, with a capacity of 41 people, is still open.

Kiana Linares works at the front desk and says the bottom floor in one of their buildings is free.

Linares says few people make reservations in advance these days.

“I don’t think we really had people registered who had already booked tours,” she said. “I think they book them when they get here, once they realize they can’t get in unless they book a tour or go to Western Yellowstone.”

The west entrance is about three hours from Gardiner.

Local businesses are hopeful that the planned improvements to Old Gardiner Road will be successfully completed in October as planned. All four other entrances to the park close every winter, so the road from Gardiner, which is normally open all year round, can help the city have a good winter tourist season.

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