By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
When a devastating flood carried away portions of the highway between the North and Northeast entrances to Yellowstone National Park on June 13, Superintendent Cam Sholly was doubtful traffic could resume before the end of the summer tourist season.
But crews have been working diligently since mid-August, and the Northeast entrance is scheduled to reopen at 8 a.m. Saturday, effectively having open 99% of the park’s roads.
“If you asked me June 13, when we started seeing these damage reports and we were evacuating the park – and there was no power for 40 hours, and 200,000 gallons of wastewater was dumping in the Gardiner River – if you asked me at that point would we be standing here today, four months later, having the conversation that we’re having and seeing the repairs done that we’re seeing, I would say that was probably not feasible,” Sholly told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday.
Good News for Southwest Montana
The anticipated opening is good news for residents of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, whose economies depend on summer and winter tourism.
“I’ve probably been to Cooke City and Silver Gate about 10 times or so since the flood event,” said Sholly. “Great community members, obviously very stressed with what happened this summer, very impacted.
“And it’s another motivator for us to get these roads repaired, to help these communities.”
With the Nov. 1 anticipated opening of the Old Gardiner Road, a former stagecoach trail that has been rebuilt to handle major traffic, Sholly said residents will not be cut off this winter. Paving is being completed over the entire 4-mile road and more than 5,000 feet of guardrail is being installed.
“I was on (the Old Gardiner Road) this morning. It’s looking terrific,” said Sholly. “I think the public’s going to be incredibly impressed when they’re on that road. But we’ve got a long way to go for the permanent kind of repairs that need to be done in both corridors.”
Sholly said officials are considering several possibilities for permanent repairs to the highway between Cooke City and Gardiner.
“We’re going to pick the ones that are the least environmentally impacting, the least visibly impacting and the most resilient to future flood events,” he said.
Sholly pointed out that 292,000 tons of earth have been moved within the park to make all of the repairs happen.
“That is a massive amount of earth that was moved in a very short amount of time in order to make it look like it does right now,” he said, gesturing at the hillside under construction. “If you looked at the Old Gardiner road or even these (Northeast entrance road) repairs, you’d have years of planning and design and engineering that would go into them.
“And we’ve done that on the fly as we built in a matter of weeks, in many cases, prior to the repairs being conducted. Really a terrific effort.”
Sholly said repairs for both the Gardiner Road construction and work at the Northeast Entrance have cost close to $50 million, all federally funded.
“I’ve never seen such a level of collaboration and coordination getting so much done,” he said.
Construction To Continue
Sholly said construction will continue even after the road is opened to traffic, but travelers can expect only minor delays.
“You’ll see traffic on Saturday morning at 8 traveling this road, but that doesn’t mean the construction and the repairs are over,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, still a lot of cleanup.”