By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A Florida family has come away from the disaster in Yellowstone with a deep appreciation for the people of Gardiner, Montana.
Mandy Callahan, a teacher from Bonifay, Florida, was on a long-planned trip to Yellowstone National Park with 13 other members of her family, and had spent five days exploring the area when disaster struck.
“We’ve had this trip booked for a year,” Callahan told Cowboy State Daily. “We took three of our children and their husbands, and five of our grandchildren, and my mother.”
Callahan said the family rented a large VRBO property in Gardiner, as well as four vehicles, with which they drove through most of Yellowstone the first few days of their trip. Then on Monday, the group decided to take a trip south to the Tetons.
“We went, and the north entrance was closed,” Callahan said. “And so we decided we would just hang out in Gardiner that day, thinking that it would open back up. We just didn’t realize the seriousness of it at that point.”
Later that day, Callahan said they had begun hearing rumblings that the roads surrounding Gardiner had been closed due to flooding.
“People started telling us that the bridges were out, and that there was no way to get out,” she said. “And we started seeing footage of the north entrance, the roads between Mammoth and the north entrance, and we started to panic a little.”
Being a teacher on summer vacation, Callahan teased that she would have been fine hanging out in Gardiner until August – but the rest of the family had livelihoods to return to in Florida, and being stranded in Montana wasn’t part of the plan.
Rental House Owner
However, in the short term, Callahan said they needed to be prepared to ride out the worst of the disaster – which she had been told, alarmingly, could last several weeks.
“I contacted the VRBO owner – this guy, I just cannot say enough about him,” she said. “I talked to him and I said, ‘Please tell me they’re being overly dramatic.’ And he said, ‘I’m afraid, from what I’m seeing, they’re not.’”
“And so he immediately said, ‘But listen, you stay there as long as you need to. You’re safe. You have shelter.’ And he said, ‘I’ll figure out the minimum cost that it takes me to keep the electricity on and the place operational, and I’ll do a long term rental for you.’”
As the flood waters had done unknown damage to the local water and wastewater systems, the VRBO owner, who was at his home in California at the time, warned the Callahans that they would have to take care with the water.
“He immediately contacted me and said he had gotten a boil-water notice. And he said go get water and fill up as many containers as you can. And then he called us back and said, ‘don’t drink the water, even if you boil it.’”
The Callahans received more than just advice and shelter from the VRBO owner, Rob Hammond. Callahan said Hammond sent over a neighbor to check on their family.
“He said, ‘I have friends in Gardiner if you need anything, I can call them and they can come over,’” Callahan said. “And he called a neighbor and sent her over, and she knocked on the door and said, ‘I’ve spoken to Rob, what do you need? What can I get you?’ And then she realized we had littles with us, and she came back with stuffed animals or our three littles. It was just so sweet.”
But the Callahans were still looking for a way to get home, if possible. Callahan said they found a pilot that was willing to fly them out of Gardiner to Bozeman, Montana, in order to catch a plane home. But that meant they would have to abandon the four vehicles they had rented.
And as much graciousness as they received from the owner of their rental house, Callahan said they experienced that much from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car agency in Bozeman as well.
“I spoke directly to the (Enterprise) manager at the Bozeman airport, and she said, ‘Listen, we have to keep it on record, we have to keep it rented to you, but I’m going to rent the car to you for $2 a day and issue you a credit,’” Callahan said.
“She said, ‘Just please leave the car somewhere safe, and bring us the keys and we’ll go get it when the roads are repaired.’”
Another contact that had been made in planning for the trip also offered to assist the family.
“(He) said, ‘Listen, if you can get out of Gardiner and into Bozeman, we have a VRBO apartment in Bozeman and you can stay there for free,” Callahan said.
But as much as the family was concerned about being stranded, those concerns were alleviated when they found out that the road from Gardiner north through Paradise Valley would open back up Tuesday.
“So much was offered to us that we didn’t have to take advantage of, but you know, people just didn’t hesitate,” Callahan said. “They just did everything they could to help.”
Before the family left, they started returning some of the kindnesses that had been extended to them.
“The man that owns the home said that the people that cleaned for him are actually outside of Gardiner and they couldn’t get in,” Callahan said. “So we cleaned the house for him. And he called the local food bank for us and someone from the local food bank came and picked up all of our leftover food.”
Callahan said that Hammond is now opening the house to Park families who have been displaced by the flood.
“You know, the bad guys get all the airtime,” said Callahan, “but there really are good people in the world. There really are.”
“My prayers go out to everyone affected by the flood,” she added, “and I will forever be grateful for the good people in this great little town.”