There’s good news for visitors to Yellowstone National Park — beginning Wednesday, about half of the park will reopen to visitors.
Lodging will soon be available, and some vehicles will be allowed to drive the south loop to access attractions such as Old Faithful and the Lake Hotel.
But businesses in the gateway communities surrounding the park are still struggling with the impacts of the flood which forced the park’s closure last week.
“We were going to have one of our best summers this year,” said Terri Briggs, owner of the Big Moose Resort at Colter Pass near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. “And over half my people have canceled on me, clear into September.”
Although the park’s south, west and east entrances are to open Wednesday, its north and northeast entrances, where damage was more extensive, will remain closed.
Briggs told Cowboy State Daily that work to reopen the northeast entrance near Cooke City is not as high on the priority list as is work to reopen the north entrance between Gardiner and Mammoth.
“(U.S. Sen. John) Tester went with (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) over to Gardiner and Red Lodge, but never came up here,” she said. “So they haven’t evaluated here. Why have we been kind of left out, or halfway, or did they just not come to this area? And I realize it’s only been seven days since this happened, so I know the wheels are slow.”
Briggs, also the president of the Colter Pass/Cooke City/Silver Gate Chamber of Commerce, said of the three communities, Silver Gate was hit the hardest.
“The Grizzly Lodge, all their cabins have got silt in them, because they were right in the flow,” Briggs said, “and so most of Silver Gate has damage because the creek came up so high there. Roads, buildings, of course their water supply is damaged.”
Pahaska Teepee Closed
Just south of Cooke City, as the crow flies, lies Pahaska Tepee Resort, which was built by Buffalo Bill Cody as a hunting lodge in the early 1900s.
Pat Wood, an employee at Pahaska, said rising water from the Shoshone River forced the resort to close June 13 and lay sandbags to protect the property.
“We had some issues where the river crested into our wells,” Wood told Cowboy State Daily. “But thank God, on the east side, the road didn’t get washed out, and the building didn’t get washed away. Definitely, there were times where we weren’t sure, we were definitely holding our breath a little, but by the grace of God, we fared much better than our friends on the north side.”
Wood said Pahaska shut down when Yellowstone’s east gate did, early June 13, forcing staff to cancel room reservations and close the restaurant.
“Because the river got into our well, we could not have people in our rooms or in our restaurant,” Wood said.
Like businesses near the northeast entrance, Wood said cancellations started rolling in immediately.
“People just started canceling because the parks shut down,” she said. “And because of the news coverage, it went like wildfire, people just calling left and right canceling.”
Wood said over 30% of the summer reservations for Pahaska, which is to open Wednesday, have been canceled so far.
“Just this last week, we’ve had people canceling, they’re just watching the news, and they’re like, ‘Well, we’re never going to get in,’” she said. “So whether it’s July, August, September, they’re taking back their reservations.”
Wood said the cancellations have been hard on the staff at Pahaska, as well.
“My staff is frustrated,” she said. “We have a skeleton crew right now, but they’re just hanging tight, hoping that everything goes forward.”
The tourists who were planning trips of a lifetime to Yellowstone National Park are frustrated as well, Wood said.
“We’ve had people be really kind and understanding, and then we’ve had people that are just ticked off, and somehow it’s our fault,” Wood said. “Mother Nature flooded the park, so it’s always a little difficult to try to help people that are just frustrated.”
Near the northeast entrance, Briggs pointed out that the closure is particularly difficult for new business owners.
“Here in Cooke City alone, we have got at least four, maybe five new business owners that bought it last fall, this winter, and are opening this spring,” Briggs said. “I can’t imagine, being able to, but having no business on your first year.”
Briggs said there has been some movement to reopen nearby Beartooth Pass, which residents use to access Red Lodge, Montana. The pass is closed off on the Wyoming side near Long Lake, just past the Top Of the World store.
“The park maintains the road from the (northeast) entrance all the way to the Montana State Line,” she said. “I don’t know whether there is some dirt that is on the road, but they were bringing up an excavator for a couple days.”
Briggs pointed out that although the northeast entrance is closed, nearby communities are still accessible from Cody via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway.
“The animals are out here,” she said. “Just two days ago a moose walked through the back yard here. There’s been a bear down the road in between here and Pilot (Peak).”
Briggs said as a community, business owners are trying to rebrand their message to potential visitors.
“We’re not just Yellowstone and Lamar Valley,” she said. “We have got fishing, we’ve got hiking, we have horseback riding, we have side by sides… plus the K-Bar-Z (ranch), he has horses, the Skyline has horses, so we have other things for people to do, other than to go into the park.”
And Briggs said that as difficult as the situation is, it is just temporary.
“I know they said something about 80% (of the park opening) in the next two weeks, the park did,” Briggs said, “but I’m hoping by September that we can at least do a (north) loop.”