Yellowstone Park reopening after flood changes

WAPITI, Wyo (AP) – Visitors will return to a changed landscape in Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday as it partially reopened after record flooding that reshaped the park’s rivers and valleys, eroding many roads. wiped out and left some areas inaccessible to their wildlife viewing. , possibly for months to come.

Park managers are lifting the gates at three of Yellowstone’s five entrances at 8 a.m. Wednesday for the first time since June 13, when rivers in northern Wyoming and southern Montana were ordered to evacuate 10,000 visitors after rivers that rained. After a torrent of it had climbed to their shores. spring snow.

Some of America’s first national park’s major attractions will be re-visitable, including Old Faithful—the famed geyser that shoots giant bursts of steamy water like clockwork more than a dozen times a day.

But bears, wolves and bison roaming 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 at least early July, and major thoroughfares in the park diverge near the Montana tourist towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge, and Cook City.

It is unknown how many visitors will appear immediately after the flood. The park’s managers celebrated their 150th anniversary a year after a record number of 4.9 million visits, as park managers prepared for the crowd.

“In July and August, we get a million people a month in Yellowstone,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholey. “You can’t do the whole trip in half the park.”

To keep visitors down while repairs continue, park managers will use a system that only allows cars with even-numbered last digits on their license plates to enter on even days, while odd- Vehicles with the last number with the number may arrive on odd days.

Groups of visitors traveling together in separate cars are exempt from the license plate system, as well as those with reservations at hotels in campgrounds and parks.

If traffic along the park’s 400 miles (644 kilometers) of roads becomes unmanageable, Sholey said officials will implement a reservation system to enter the park.

The reopening comes as officials at Yellowstone are still tallying the extent of the damage. Depending on other national park disasters, reconstruction can take years and carry a hefty price tag. It is an environmentally sensitive landscape with a vast underground plumbing system that feeds into the park’s geysers, hot springs and other thermal features. The construction season only lasts from the spring thaw to the first snowfall, a narrow window that means some roads may receive only temporary improvements this year.

This has turned some Montana communities into dead ends rather than gateways to Yellowstone, a blow to their tourism-dependent economies. They are still struggling to clean up damage to several hundred homes and businesses that were flooded on the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers.

At Red Lodge, one of those gateway towns cut off from the park, most businesses are open, even as flood clean-up continues. The Montana Department of Transportation is beginning repairs to the road between Red Lodge and the scenic Beartooth Highway, and the National Park Service is working to restore access to some areas in the northern part of the park.

“We have to remain optimistic, but we also have to be realistic that there are a lot of things going on and a lot of pieces going to get it done,” said Tim Weimar, marketing for the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce.

“We are optimistic that we will survive,” he said. “We’re not going to have the summer we were hoping for.”

For others the rebound can come fast. Yellowstone tour guide Derek Dremin said he is fully booked with groups of four who will visit the park on Wednesday.

“I think it would take a pile of cars to try to be the first to enter the park after thousands of years of flooding,” he said.

Dremin lost about 25 tours due to the flooding and says fewer visitors may come thinking the park has been badly damaged. But with most of the park expected to be accessible within weeks, Dremin said it’s also possible that business could take a hit because tourists who can’t enter through the park’s north entrance, via West Yellowstone Funnels are where his company, Yellowstone Adventure Tours, is based.

“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I could see both things happening.”

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Hanson reported from Helena, Montana.

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