As reported in The Dallas Express, heavy rain combined with the mountain runoff from fresh layers of snow led to unprecedented flooding in parts of southern Montana and northwestern Wyoming over Memorial Day weekend.
The Office of Emergency Management issued evacuation orders to several communities while flooding at Yellowstone, mainly concentrated in the northern end of the national park, caused dangerous rockslides, mudslides, bridge collapses, and road failures.
Yellowstone began reopening in relatively unaffected areas and announced that biking, hiking, and fishing access between Slough Creek and Tower Junction is now open to tourists.
However, the North and Northeast sections of the park remain closed. A portion of Highway 89 at the north entrance was heavily damaged by what the U.S. Geological Survey described as a one-in-a-500-year flooding event. The overflowing Yellowstone River simply washed away large sections of the highway.
The North entrance closure has isolated Gardiner and Cooke City, two gateway communities with economies heavily reliant on Yellowstone tourism. Business owners at the North entrance have seen their sales plummet and are bracing themselves for hard times. About one million tourists visit the park a month, and tourism sustains roughly 7,000 jobs in the area, according to The Washington Post.
The Army Corps of Engineers are reportedly repairing two miles of Highway 89, which could take up to five years and cost $1 billion of taxpayer money. Still, erosion is so bad in the area that engineers fear parts of the canyon there could collapse.
The National Park Service stated that park staff “will work with commercial guides and outfitters…to further expand park access where possible.”
Tourists should plan ahead and monitor social media and the Yellowstone website for status updates as there are limits on visitor traffic and the number of day-pass reservations.