By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The northern loop of Yellowstone National Park will be closed for “an extensive time” due to damages caused by historic flooding, the park’s superintendent said Tuesday.
Cam Sholly, speaking during a news conference Tuesday, told the more than 100 reporters listening in that at least one road in the park, the northern route linking the Montana communities of Gardiner and Cooke City, will probably be closed for the rest of the season.
The timeline for opening the rest of the park will depend entirely on what park officials find when they are able to enter the park and examine the damage done by Sunday and Monday’s flooding.
“We will not know exactly what the timelines are, what the costs are or any of that information until we get teams on the ground who can actually assess the situation,” Sholly said.
From 2 to 3 inches of rain fell on the park on Sunday and Monday, speeding the melt of snow left by a weekend blizzard and swelling rivers to record levels.
The flooding forced the closure and evacuation of the park and washed away numerous roads and “hundreds” of bridges used in the park’s trail system, Sholly said.
He added the damage as most severe in the park’s northern loop.
“The [damage] to the northern loop is going to be more extensive and require condition and damage assessments that need to be done to figure out what the plan is there for a reconstruction strategy,” Sholly said.
Sholly said he hoped to reopen the park’s southern loop within a week or less, but added that decision would also depend on an assessment of the situation.
He added is working with gateway communities to determine when the southern loop can best be opened.
However, he did note during the conference that the southern portion of the park could not accommodate all of Yellowstone’s visitors, which can amount to 1 million or more per month in the summer.
This could mean that when the park does reopen, timed visitations or reservations might be implemented to try to handle the influx of visitors, but Sholly was not firm on this.
“We do know that half the park cannot accommodate all of the visitation,” he said.
Sholly said Monday’s closure was the first caused by flooding, although he noted the park was completely closed two years ago during the COVID pandemic.
Sholly said he did not know the exact number of visitors who had to be removed from the park on Monday, but he estimated it was somewhere around 10,000 people. Another several thousand were also removed from Gardiner.
However, this did not mean everyone left the park.
There were still around a dozen backcountry campers inside of Yellowstone as of Tuesday afternoon, but Sholly said park officials have been in regular contact with the recreationists.
“We know they’re safe and they’re making their way out of the park,” Sholly said. “They had more time to get out compared to frontcountry visitors and cars.”