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Yellowstone Park’s Mammoth Hotel To Remain Closed For Winter

in Yellowstone/News/Tourism
NPS / Jacob W. Frank

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By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter

Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone National Park won’t open this winter after all. 

The historic hotel, a popular winter tourism destination in the national park, had been closed all summer after a flood in June damaged the area’s wastewater system. 

Park officials had said a remanufactured system would be brought in to temporarily handle the up to 150,000 gallons per day capacity needed in winter, as well as the 350,000-gallon capacity needed in summer. 

But park officials say winter weather and supply chain issues have delayed the completion date. 

“Originally, we thought (the temporary wastewater system) would be finished by Dec. 1,” park spokeswoman Linda Veress told Cowboy State Daily via email.

“But now, given winter weather (snow) and difficulty procuring needed items for the system that are not readily available, we anticipate the system will be complete in February,” she said. “The park is diligently working on multiple short- and long-term solutions to restore full service to Mammoth.”

While the hotel will be closed, park officials stressed that the gift shop, coffee and beverage service, lobby and ski shop will remain open. Regularly scheduled tours and stagecoach service between Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful and other iconic locations also will remain available.

Refunds In The Works

Room and package reservations for Mammoth Hotel are all being canceled and refunded. No action is required by anyone with a reservation, the park says, adding that people should allow seven to 10 days for processing. 

Guests who had a booking that included Mammoth and Old Faithful Inn may keep the Old Faithful arrangements if they wish or cancel for a full refund, as long as they do so at least 14 days in advance. 

Guests also are advised they can book their Mammoth stays with Old Faithful, or with other communities in the area, including Silver Gate, Cooke City and Gardiner. 

While the closure of Mammoth could turn out to be a blow for lodging tax revenues in Park County this winter, hotel owners in nearby communities like Gardiner and Cooke City told Cowboy State Daily that they are already seeing an influx of new bookings in response to Mammoth’s extended closure.

Park County Hit Could Be Boon For Others

The closure of Mammoth will undoubtedly have some impact on Park County, which gets to count those stays as part of its tally for lodging taxes. 

But it appears it’s already becoming a boon to hard-hit hotel owners in Gardiner and Cooke City/Silver Gate, some of whom had told Cowboy State Daily their bookings for winter were down significantly compared to a more usual winter, despite the recent opening of Gardiner Road.

Among these was Tami McDonald at the Park Hotel, who said she’d already taken 100 bookings Wednesday, among them a Michigan couple coming to the park to celebrate their anniversary.

“They had actually extended their stay a couple of days to book a room with us prior to Mammoth hotel closing,” McDonald told Cowboy State Daily. 

Since the couple will stay longer, they decided to upgrade their Park Hotel room to a larger space with a kitchen. 

“I’ve had so many people tell me about their dreams of coming to Yellowstone,” McDonald said. “I remember one story, this gal she was just graduating college and she lived in Japan. And her dad was in his 70s and all his life he talked about going to Yellowstone Park someday. 

“Finally, he saved enough money, and because his daughter had graduated from college he said, ‘We’re going to Yellowstone.’”

But then the flood hit and, with so many things closed, the dream trip was postponed, and so far hasn’t been rebooked.

Courtesy Photo

Many Alternatives

McDonald said she hopes people whose Mammoth Hotel reservations are canceled will at least consider other hotels in the area. 

Some of these include Yellowstone River Motel, Absaroka Lodge, Super 8, Yellowstone Gateway Inn, Riverside Cottages as well as several VRBOs, Chelsea DeWeese told Cowboy State Daily. DeWeese helps her mother Betty DeWeese with the Yellowstone River Motel.

“Folks can stay, eat and soak (in Yellowstone Hot Springs) in Gardiner and drive to the Old Gardiner Road to Mammoth to either explore Lamar Valley on their own or catch a slowcoach into the interior,” she said. “Gardiner could potentially be a ‘hot spot’ for cold-weather tourism this winter.”

High Country Motel in Cooke City, meanwhile, also was booking new reservations for wildlife watching groups, Cowboy State Daily was told. 

The owner, Brandon Richardson, had previously said he had a lot fewer bookings this winter than usual, which particularly hurt after a brutal summer that, for him, was “a complete write-off.”

“It’s been a tough season,” Richardson said. “We were one of the few people who didn’t lay anybody off because we have such good employees and if we did, we’d probably lose them. I know a lot of places closed down a little early, and most of them struggled just like we did.”

He’s among hotel owners hoping for a boost in winter tourism this year. 

“We thought COVID was rough, but it was nothing compared to the flooding,” Richardson said.

History of Yellowstone’s ‘Grand’ Hotel

Mammoth Hotel is one of Yellowstone Park’s four big lodges. It was first built in Queen Anne style in 1883 by the Yellowstone Park Improvement Co. At that time, it was known as the National Hotel.

Yellowstone Park Improvement Co. not only built a grand hotel, but had a grand design for the park. It rented out whole square-mile tracts, eyeing lucrative opportunities like rent and timber. 

But in building the National Hotel — four stories high and more than 400 feet long — the company overextended itself, according to author Paul Scullery in the book “Searching for Yellowstone.”

From there, the hotel passed into the hands of the Northern Pacific Railroad. 

In 1911, the hotel’s fourth floor was removed and the roof flattened. Robert Reamer oversaw the reconstruction, which included a new north wing, completed by 1913.

Reamer also oversaw reconstruction of the hotel again in 1935, when all but the north wing was torn down. The new building was painted a light grey and was constructed in the Art Moderne style. 

In August 2019, in partnership with Xanterra Travel collection, the historic hotel was renovated and preserved again, down to keeping historic mahogany woodwork and adding new bronze inserts for handrails, as well as keeping original lamps for each guest room.

New, private bathrooms were added to the hotel guest rooms as well, along with new windows and conference rooms. The structure also was stabilized, electrical systems were modernized and the facility is now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

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Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly Reflects On Tough Year For Yellowstone

in Yellowstone/News/Tourism

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

As Yellowstone National Park kicked off its 150th anniversary tourism season in May, hopes were high the celebration would draw even more visitors than the nearly 4.9 million seen in 2021, the busiest on record and up 20% from 2020.

But less than six weeks after the park opened for the summer season, a late spring rainstorm caused millions of gallons of water to carve away at hillsides, consume roads and tear away bridges – and homes – on the Yellowstone River. 

On Oct. 13, exactly four months from the historic flood event – and a week shy of his fourth anniversary as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park – Cam Sholly led members of the media on a tour of the construction area leading into Yellowstone from the Northeast Entrance.

“The last few have felt like the true definition of dog years,” Sholly said.

Visitation Takes A Hit

Less than two years after he took over as the park’s superintendent, Sholly oversaw the changes necessary to operate the country’s first national park during a pandemic.

Then on June 13 this year, thousands of visitors found their Yellowstone vacations abruptly halted as Yellowstone National Park officials evacuated the entire park despite flooding only having damaged roads on the north end of Yellowstone. Concerns about water quality prompted close inspections of all of the park’s developed areas, which closed all of Yellowstone for eight days.

The south loop opened first, as it had been determined that the facilities in the northern part of the park had suffered more damage to critical wastewater treatment infrastructure. That meant visitors – the ones who hadn’t already canceled their plans – had to confine their explorations to the areas south of Canyon and Norris.

In a normal year, that concentration of visitation in two-thirds of Yellowstone’s developed areas would have been difficult. But because news of the flood spread so quickly, staffing and infrastructure were not stretched.

“Our car counts show that with the exception of a few days, the South, West and East entrances for most of the summer were below normal entries,” said Sholly. “And so even having to have these two entrances closed, it wasn’t like it pushed everybody to those three – visitation was just lower, so that helped.”

Significantly lower, it turns out.

“My guess is we’ll be around 3.2 (million) this year, in that range, which is significantly lower,” said Sholly. 

One reason for visitor cancellations, Sholly surmised, is that first-time visitors didn’t want to miss out on the wonders of the Lamar Valley, where wildlife watching is some of the best in the park.

“Seventy percent of the visitors that come to Yellowstone are first-time visitors, and a huge part of that bucket list is going to Lamar Valley,” he said. “And if you are going to plan your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Yellowstone, but you couldn’t get to Lamar Valley, you might want to wait until you could.”

Visitor Management

The ever-increasing number of visitors to Yellowstone has raised a question over the last few years whether the park would someday be forced to implement visitor management systems, like the reservation systems that have been used in Utah recently. Sholly said one benefit to the disaster response efforts was the opportunity to try out various visitor management systems.

“We were able to try some things out, like the alternating license plate system,” he said. “We put a reservation system in place for Tower to Slough Creek, a day-use reservation system. So we were able to kind of experiment with some visitor use management actions that we probably wouldn’t have been able to take, except for under emergency circumstances.”

He said the alternating license plate system worked almost too well.

“We have a lot of data from visitors who really liked it. There was less congestion, parking availability,” Sholly said. “But we had a lot of conversations with Cody and Jackson and West Yellowstone about (whether or not) we were putting enough cars into the park.” 

‘A Wakeup Call’

Sholly said although experts have called the flood a “one-in-500-year-event,” that doesn’t mean much.

“We could get another similar event next year, in 10 years, or whatever,” he said. “And in some ways, I think it should be a wakeup call.”

He said most of the Park’s road infrastructure was built in the 1930s and ’40s, when climate change wasn’t part of the conversation. 

“It’s a reminder that not only do we need to maintain and improve the infrastructure that we have, we’ve got to really look to the future when we’re making those improvements,” he said, noting that roads throughout Yellowstone are critical for multiple reasons. “How do we make (these improvements) in a way that’s most resilient to future events that might happen?”

Mammoth Hotel Still Not Operational

While the Hot Springs Hotel in Mammoth is still not operational, Sholly said staff hopes to open this winter. The holdup, he said, is that a temporary wastewater plant is being constructed but wasn’t operational for the summer.

“We did not have wastewater capacity sufficient to facilitate having guests and employees and hotels and restaurants,” Sholly said.

However, thanks to some 1960’s-era percolator ponds on the property, the administrative buildings can be safely occupied.

“It works well when the temperature is above freezing,” said Sholly. “It doesn’t work well when it’s below, unless you want to go out and break ice every morning.”

Hope for Winter Economy

With construction wrapping up at both the northeast entrance and north entrances (the Old Gardiner Road is scheduled to open no later than Nov. 1), Sholly said residents of Cooke City and Silver Gate will not be cut off from the rest of civilization, as the only other way out of that region in the summer – to the east, towards Red Lodge and Cody – is cut off by snow during the winter.

But that snow also provides a lively winter economy for the communities, where businesses cater to snowmobilers.

“This is the only road between Cooke City and Gardiner, the only road that’s open to wheeled traffic in the winter,” Sholly said. “And so wildlife watching, wolf watching and snowmobilers coming through to get to Cooke City and that kind of thing are critical components to these winter economies when tourism is at its lowest.”

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Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance to Open Saturday As Massive Flood Recovery Continues

in Yellowstone/News

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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. 

292,000 Tons

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.”

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