Businesses and residents near Yellowstone National Park have been looking forward to summer 2022. The park, which attracts more than 4 million visitors a year, had reopened after closing intermittently during the pandemic, and tourists were expected to descend to gateway communities near the main entrances to the park. .
Instead, historic flooding inundated the area over the weekend, prompting Montana Governor Greg Gianforte to declare a state of emergency and forcing 10,000 visitors to flee as surrounding communities wondered. how they were going to rebuild after another setback.
“It’s been very, very difficult and very stressful,” said MacNeil Lyons, owner and lead guide of Yellowstone Insight, which offers tours of the national park year-round. “I feel like I’ve aged a lot in the last three years.”
The Lyon company is based in Gardiner, Montana, one of the areas hardest hit by this week’s flooding. He saw a house washed away in a roaring river and was stranded in Gardiner for two days, waiting for the water to recede and the roads to reopen so he could be reunited with his family in Bozeman, where he lives most of the time. .
Authorities closed Yellowstone National Park on Monday, and it’s unclear when it will reopen.
The extent of the damage is still being assessed, but officials said the park’s south loop could reopen as early as next week with modifications likely in place. An “aggressive recovery plan” is still being developed for the northern sections of the park.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in a very short time, but there’s still a long way to go,” Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.
The flooding began when up to 3 inches of rain and snowmelt from warming temperatures combined to create catastrophic conditions in the 150-year-old park, which spans three states and some 2, 2 million miles. Several homes and structures were swept away and around 100 people were airlifted to safety.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden declared a disaster in Montana, making federal relief funds available to help the recovery effort, Gianforte’s office said.
“Over the past few days, flooding has destroyed homes, washed away roads and bridges, left Montanans without power and water services, and threatened Montanan livelihoods,” Gianforte said in a statement.
Officials said the southern section of the park which contains the Old Faithful geyser could reopen to the public next week, but the northern end, including Tower Fall and other tourist favorites, could be closed for several months in due to severe road damage.
Communities bordering the north of the park are struggling as phone lines and electricity go on and off and residents are being urged to boil tap water before drinking it.
“While you can’t label a weather event as being created by climate change, it’s the 50,000-pound gorilla in the room,” said Howie Wolke, who lives 18 miles outside Gardiner in Tom Miner’s Basin, where a bridge was destroyed earlier. this week. “All projections indicate there will be more extreme weather events…and that’s what we’re already seeing.”
Wolke, who ran an outfitting business for more than 40 years, had to rethink operations as summers get hotter and snow melts earlier. When he started in the industry, he planned camping trips during peak mosquito season, but in recent years his attention has turned to wildfires and drought.
“Businesses are going to have to adapt,” he said. “We are dealing with a new reality now.” Speaking to reporters earlier in the week, Park County Commissioner Bill Berg highlighted the financial burden on gateway communities like Gardiner that depend on tourism.
The national park, which is mostly in Wyoming but spans parts of Montana and Idaho, was closed for two months in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic and has also been closed periodically during shutdowns. government policies that affect federal workers.
Lyons of Yellowstone Insight has been in the guide business for more than 20 years and says he’s weathered everything from wildfires to closures. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, he was forced to postpone or refund dozens of reservations for customers around the world.
In a nightmare scenario, a client from the UK this week canceled her third attempt since 2019 to visit Yellowstone, Lyons said.
He estimates he may have to pay around $70,000 in bookings this year due to possible postponements or cancellations and plans to close for the season if conditions don’t improve significantly.
“It’s going to put me in a real money pit,” he said. “It’s a wash. My season is a wash.