Well, the flood on June 13 was a real game-changer. The damage is extensive and will take time and millions of dollars to repair. The gateway towns are in real trouble. None of us know when weíll be able to see wolves in Lamar again. I am not worried for the wolves themselves Ė and the Junction pups are in a safe place, high above the river.
I have been spending my days talking with my various wolf buds, bemoaning and mourning our suddenly disrupted lives. But we all recognize that the real victims are the gateway towns: Gardiner, Silver Gate, Cooke City and West Yellowstone. With the Park closed just as summer is gearing up, they are going to lose a LOT of income, and this is on top of just barely recovering from the disruptions of the pandemic.
Everyone is grateful that no lives were lost directly but now there is such uncertainty for the future. One statement I heard was that it could be 3 years before the road through Gardiner Canyon can re-open.
Cam Sholly, the Parkís superintendent has announced that he will start holding conference calls with ďmajor stakeholdersĒ, meaning the business- people of the gateway towns. Rick told me he will be on that call.
A week after the flood, the Park announced it would soon open three of its five entrances: West, South and East, along with the ďsouthern loopĒ roads that serve those areas. Access will be restricted for the time being, until the Park has a chance to see how itís working.
Park personnel and Xanterra employees will be shifted from the northern range (Mammoth, Tower, and Canyon) to the south (Lake, Bridge Bay, Grant, Fishing Bridge, Old Faithful, Madison and West).
The plan for restricted access is new for Yellowstone, but such arrangements have been used in other popular parks. Itís based on license plate numbers. If the last digit on your plate is even, then you get access on even-numbered days of the month. If itís odd, you get access on odd-numbered days. In addition, anyone with proof of a confirmed reservation for lodging inside Yellowstone will have access regardless of plate number.
The Park warned that it is prepared to turn people away at the gate if they do not match the required criteria.
The northern range will remain out of bounds for visitors. This is a bummer, because the road from Mammoth to Tower is fine, as is the road over Dunraven to Canyon. In fact, the road from Tower to Slough is fine, too. But for now, at least, those roads continue to be closed. I think the Park is being careful, and possibly reserving certain routes for emergencies and law enforcement.
In my discussions with Yellowstone friends, we believe the Park is facing three main issues related to this natural disaster. First Ė personnel: Law enforcement does not want to be spread too thin, especially since access to Mammoth is compromised. Second - sewer damage: Park personnel cannot be housed in Mammoth because the flood compromised the entire wastewater/clean water system.
Although they rapidly put a temporary solution in place and avoided an even worse disaster, the Park remains wary of overtaxing that system. Third Ė road access. The only way wheeled vehicles can travel between Gardiner and Mammoth is via a narrow dirt/gravel road, once used by stagecoaches 150 years ago. I have driven this road twice in my early days, and believe me, itís just an emergency road, not at all ďup to codeĒ. Itís steep and twisty and only wide enough for one-way travel. It runs from behind the Mammoth hotel (past Allisonís resting place) to the main North gate.
You canít have heavy gas trucks or RVís or busses on this road. Given the enormity of the disaster, though, itís damned lucky for the Park that this route exists at all. All those vehicles listed above will have to take the very LONG way around, from Mammoth to West, then to points beyond.
On Wednesday, June 22, the Southern loop opened. My carís plate ends in 2 so I could have gone that day, but I chose to wait until Friday to let the Park work the kinks out of the plan.
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about going at all; as much as I want the psychological lift of seeing my heartís home, I donít know how I will feel to not actually see my favorite places IN that home.
Still, I feel a duty, as one who lives so close, to explore this new way to visit Yellowstone and report back to those in my wolf-watching community who live further away.
I snagged a reservation at Lake and started packing.