Yellowstone Park Closure

Due to the flooding in Yellowstone I am inserting this blog post out of order to give an update on the situation. Thank you VERY much to everyone who has reached out and checked on us. We are safe and are continuing to monitor the situation.

A couple of days after our Mammoth Terrace visit it started raining and it didn’t stop. I mean that literally because it rained for two solid days over the weekend. Lee was actually really sick that weekend as well so between his being sick and the rain we just hunkered down and rode it out. Sunday evening though word started to trickle in that there was major flooding up north. By Monday morning it was clear that the town of Gardiner (right outside the north entrance) was completely cut off. The bridges had washed out on two sides and HWY 89 was completely shut down. In addition Cooke City was cut off and Red Lodge (where a friend of ours was working) was completely flooded out.

Information came from a variety of places so I wont even attempt to recreate the timeline but here is what we have heard so far.

  1. The two days of rain accumulated 2-1/2″ (a record) which accelerated the snowmelt bringing the Yellowstone River to its highest recorded levels.
  2. People were evacuated from Red Lodge, including our friends who had to move twice (finally landing in Billings, MT and had to leave their RV. We heard that 2500 RVs were evacuated in total across the area.
  3. The northern exists and eastern exits of the parks were closed due to bridge washouts or avalanche concerns. The water levels were undercutting the ground underneath the roads and Cooke City and Gardiner residents were trapped because bridges on both sides had been washed away. They lost power and their water table is contaminated from the flooding. Evacuations were done of the most at risk.
  4. Yellowstone National Park initially closed the northern loop and then ultimately closed the entire park, partly because the Bison and Elk started migrating south using the roads and were causing 16 miles long traffic jams.
  5. A hospital was evacuated in Livingston, MT because of flooding.
  6. At the time of this writing no deaths have been reported thank heavens, which is a miracle considering how quickly bridges were washed away.
  7. West Yellowstone is safe with power and clean water. The old airport, city park, and visitors center are being used for overflow along with an area in Jackson Hole.
  8. Our friends in the Tetons are safe but have seen a steady stream of RV’s and cars heading south out of one of the two passable exists.
  9. The campground owner where we are staying has said they are slammed with calls and for every 1 that cancels 9 more are for people looking for a place to stay.

The National Park Service has done an outstanding job of controlling the situation and here are the details from the most recent press release. Please keep in mind things are in flux and new information is coming in all the time.

From the National Par Service “Here are the short and long-term objectives we’ve set and will be focused on as a park for recovery:

• Ensure safety of employees and visitors

• Implement full visitor closure of the northern loop (completed yesterday)

• Implement full visitor closure of the southern loop (ongoing target completion today)

• Implement full visitor closure of the backcountry (in process)

• Evaluate needs for backcountry evacuations (begin today – assess how many people are in the backcountry, evacuation plan)

• Improve Old Gardiner Road (work should begin on this today or tomorrow once precipitation subsides. Plan will be to use this road for admin travel and to evacuate visitors from Gardiner should Hwy 89 remain impassable)

• Restore power to northern Yellowstone sites and Canyon, Lake, and Norris (Northwestern Energy working on this now and are saying should be restored today)

• Evacuate Gardiner visitors through Old Gardiner Road if necessary (likely Thursday or Friday if possible and if Hwy 89 is not open)

• Support Gardiner residents with resupply of food, water and medicine (we will be working with the Gardiner Market and others to determine needs of the community. We may bring supply trucks to Mammoth and fly supplies to Gardiner using the park’s aircraft and potentially National Guard air support; working with county and state)

• Support isolated NPS residents at NE entrance with resupply through aircraft when necessary (employees at NE entrance are sheltering in place, we are in contact with them and will gauge their needs to provide assistance. They are cut off from Cooke City)

• Provide support to Cooke City residents as necessary

• Mitigate wastewater impacts of destroyed sewer lines in Gardiner and Mammoth (ongoing)

• Relocate all Mammoth-based concessions employees to properties on the southern loop (happening today and tomorrow)

• Halt and redirect any inbound employees hired to work in Mammoth or Tower who haven’t arrived yet

• Support employees who lost housing in Gardiner (multiple actions)

• Prepare for outside teams to travel to Yellowstone and assist with damage assessments when water recedes (mixture of Federal Highways, NPS, and other)

• Prepare strategy for reservation system for southern loop for remainder of the year (we will not allow full visitation into the southern loop when it reopens and are working on options to control the amount of visitors who can enter the park; southern loop will likely not open for another 5 days at minimum)

• Develop long-term reconstruction strategy based on damage assessments; funding strategies TBD with region/WASO/DOI

• Continue substantive communications with gateway communities, congressional and DOI/NPS leadership

• Continue media outreach”

For those of us who live fulltime in an RV and/or work seasonal jobs things events like this can have a serious impact. People are separated from their homes and uncertain as to how their income (which they are relying on) might be affected. Lee and I are incredibly grateful that we both have a safe place to stay and a reliable income regardless of what happens with the local businesses but we also have been in situations where that might not be the case. If you know anyone who is traveling in this area please reach out and check on them and see if there is anything you can do. Even if it is nothing just knowing that you care will mean the world to them. And please think good thoughts or say a prayer for the continued safety of everyone in the affected areas.

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