No deaths or injuries have been reported as a result of record-setting flooding along the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, the park superintendent said Tuesday.
Park officials are still trying to assess the extent of the damage from the flooding, which washed out roads and destroyed bridges on Monday, as well as washed away homes outside the park.
“We’ve kept our teams out of harm’s way,” said Yellowstone superintendent Cam Sholly. “We won’t know exactly what the damage looks like until the water goes down.”
Meanwhile, Montana Department of Transportation officials, along with county workers, are scrambling to figure out what’s still standing and whether any repairs may be possible.
The flooding has left some tourists, residents and business owners stranded and struggling with an uncertain future.
The park’s northern border towns of Gardiner, Silver Gate and Cooke City were temporary islands due to the flooding, along with nearby residential areas in Cinnabar and Tom Miner basins.
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“It’s kind of hurry up and wait to see what the national park does and what kind of federal assistance comes in,” said Patrick Sipp, manager of Flying Pig Adventures and Whitewater in Gardiner, a rafting business. “Hopefully, the Highway 89 repairs come in quickly.”
The Park Service closed all five entrances as a precautionary measure on Monday to assess the damage to its network of roads and bridges. Six washouts of the road between the community of Gardiner, at the park’s North Entrance, and park headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming – only five miles south – could be counted in a helicopter video the Park Service posted online.
Highway 89 is the main route to Gardiner from the north and the community of Livingston.
“Many bridges and roads are no longer operational,” the Park County Office of Emergency Management reported on its website. On Monday the Yellowstone River was flowing atop the highway in a narrow stretch known as Yankee Jim Canyon.
The river posted a record-high flow of 50,000 cubic feet per second on Monday at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Corwin Springs gauge downstream from Gardiner before dropping to 27,800 cfs by Tuesday. Two years ago, Sipp said his company was running rafting trips down the Yellowstone River at that water level.
“I’m an optimist,” he added. “If 89 opens up we’ll have some semblance of a season.”
With little notice or fanfare, the Montana Department of Transportation and the Park County Sheriff’s Office opened Highway 89 at Yankee Jim Canyon late Tuesday morning. The route was only open to delivery and service vehicles and outbound visitors.
“For once, being a local is a good thing,” said Gardiner filmmaker Bob Landis. “You can go out but can’t come back unless you’re a resident.”
The communities next to the park are heavily dependent on Yellowstone to drive the summer tourism season, which for two years was hampered by the pandemic and COVID-19 precautions.
On Sunday, Kara Schlabach had the busiest day of the year so far at the Cooke City coffee shop she co-owns, near the park’s Northeast Entrance. Then flooding hit on Monday and now the streets are bare of tourists needed to keep her small business alive.
“It brought tears to my eyes because it’s a ghost town,” Schlabach said. “It’s really devastating.”
On Monday, Schlabach witnessed a Florida family of eight being plucked by a helicopter using a short haul line to lift them from a flooded rental after high waters stranded them. A different helicopter landed on the town’s main street, since the landing pad was underwater, to evacuate a man suffering from hypothermia after he waded floodwaters to self-rescue.
This story will be updated.