With authorities struggling to reopen Yellowstone National Park to tourists this week after record flooding in South Montana, some of the worst-hit people are staying away from the famous park’s publicity and leaning hard against each other to get out of the mud.
In the agricultural town of Fromburg, the Clark Fork River flooded nearly 100 homes and badly damaged a large irrigation ditch serving several farms. The city’s mayor says one-third of the flooded homes cannot be repaired. Resident Lindy O’Brien says if the city is to recover, 400 of them will have to do a lot of work themselves.
Not too far from the riverbank, Lindy O’Brien’s trailer house was raised high enough to avoid major damage. But she found water in her barn and shed, lost some of her chickens, and found her recently deceased parents’ house submerged in several feet of water.
Red Lodge and Gardiner – Elected officials visiting the damaged tourist cities of Montana, which serves as the gateway to Yellowstone, did not visit Fromburg to witness the devastation. O’Brien said it’s not surprising that the city’s location is so far away from major tourist routes.
Yellowstone National Park will partially reopen after the flood
She said she was not upset but resigned with the idea that if Fromburg was to recover, her approximately 400 residents would have to do a lot of work themselves.
“We take care of each other,” O’Brien said when she and two longtime friends, Melody Murtar and Eileen Rogers, got together from the muddy objects scattered on her property. O’Brien, an art teacher at a local school, was renovating her parents’ home in hopes of turning it into a holiday rent. Now she’s not sure if it’s worth saving.
“It’s okay to stop when you’re tired and pope,” O’Brien told Morter and Rogers, whose clothes, hands and faces were covered in mud.
Yellowstone will partially reopen at 8 a.m. Wednesday, after more than 10,000 visitors were evacuated from the park after Yellowstone and other rivers swelled due to melting snow and several inches of rain.
Park officials said Sunday they hope to reopen the park’s northern loop in the next two weeks, after previously saying it would remain closed during the summer season. The Northern Loop will give visitors access to popular attractions, including Tower Falls and Mammoth Hot Springs. But still they will be taken out of Lamar Valley, which is famous for its abundant wildlife, including bears, wolves and bison, which are usually seen on the side of the road.
Meanwhile, outside the population centers on the park boundary, there is a maze of damaged roads. A major bridge over the town of Fishtail collapsed, diverting traffic from the single-lane county road. Fishtail has about 500 people.
Lee Johnson and his wife and daughter run the restaurant Montasia, which gets its name because of its mix of Malaysian and Montana cuisine. That said, the business is sinking.
Rare Yellowstone closes due to historic flooding
“When we first opened it after the flood, it just died. And you started to feel scared. Did I do all this, did I sink all this money, did I start this business and people can’t come here now?” Johnson said.
Johnson and his Malaysian wife, Yoki, rented a 124-year-old Fishtail building earlier this year and relocated their restaurant to another part of the state. For Yokie, business was a dream come true.
“I wanted to do something on my own, not Montana’s,” she said. Her biggest goal was to start a business with her family. Yoki says running a restaurant gives her strength because she fights cancer.
“I’m not sure how much time I have left, so the time I spare I want to be with my family, work with them every day, meet them every day,” she said.
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Johnson said he is humbled by the opportunity to support his wife and is determined to keep the restaurant open while the flood damage is being repaired.
“You add your wagon to this community and it’s just a matter of sustainability,” he said.