Some Communities Still Isolated After Historic Flood Wiped-Out Parts Of Yellowstone

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Construction crews are working diligently to ensure that visitors to Yellowstone National Park can once again enter through two crucial gateways.

The 500-year flood event that cut off access to Gardiner, Mont. and Cooke City, Mont. did more than just isolate those communities from vital services – it cut off the flow of visitors, which provide the lion’s share of income.

But Park officials say that efforts to reconnect the northern entrances to the rest of the world are progressing rapidly with major repairs that began Tuesday.

North Entrance Road – Visitors Allowed With Tour Guides

The raging floodwaters on June 13 completely washed away several segments of Highway 89 between Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs.

But construction on an alternate road, known locally as the Old Gardiner Road, is already allowing some traffic to move in and out of the park, Linda Veress with the Yellowstone Public Affairs Office told Cowboy State Daily. 

“That road is open to employees and other administrative traffic, like fuel delivery, mail, UPS, and FedEx,” she said.

Veress added that while visitors aren’t allowed to enter the north gate in personal vehicles, commercial tour operators may take guests in.

“If they would like to drive their own vehicles into the park, they can come in through West Yellowstone or the south entrance, or the east entrance to the park,” she said. “But coming from the north, from Gardiner, they need to be with a tour guide.”

Approximately 1.5 miles of the 4-mile road is already at two lanes, Veress said, and the road is expected to be passable for regular traffic by Oct. 15. That road will be used as the primary access route until a permanent reconstruction option is completed in upcoming years.

Northeast Entrance – Foot Traffic Scaled Back

Contractors were working on all damaged sections of the park’s Northeast Entrance Road near Cooke City/Silver Gate, Mont., as of Tuesday, according to Park officials.

Veress said there are approximately five damaged sections of the Northeast Entrance road between Slough Creek and Barronette Meadows, and efforts to repair that damage will accelerate substantially in the upcoming weeks.

Because of the increased construction activity, the access to foot and bicycle traffic that has allowed up to six miles into the park has been scaled back.

“That changed from about six miles in, to two miles, since there will be heavy equipment on the road working,” Veress said.

The road had previously been open to bicyclists and pedestrian traffic to Barronette Meadow – as of now, the road will be closed near the Warm Creek Trailhead and picnic area. 

Chris Conway, manager for Silver Gate Lodging Company, said cutting back the access has had some effect on business.

“It’s definitely impacted our e-bike business,” Conway said, referring to rentals of electric bicycles. “Yesterday I took one of our e-bikes in… going at a decent pace and then right back, it took me 15 minutes to get down to where you can get in the park. That’s not ideal, but you know, we want them to fix the road. So, if that’s what they need to fix the road, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Veress said the road near the northeast entrance is expected to be passable for regular traffic by Oct.15 – however, additional improvements will continue beyond that date, weather permitting. Until then, hikers, bikers and equestrians should be mindful of construction nearby.

“People walking and biking on that road should just be very careful because it’s not closed to all traffic,” Veress said. “There will be traffic on the road, and heavy equipment and construction vehicles, so people should be real careful, and keep their eyes out.”

Once completed, the temporary repairs will allow for regular vehicle access, including visitors, to travel between Tower Junction and Cooke City/Silver Gate.

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