Yellowstone Official Says Flood Damage Stranded Thousands
Officials from Yellowstone National Park and Park County held a ZOOM press conference for reporters from all over the world on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, after flood waters devastated bridges, roads, and houses over the past two days.
First to speak was Yellowstone Park Superintendent Cam Sholly, who provided a brief overview of the current situation in the park.
“This is not going to be an easy rebuild,” began Sholly. “There's obviously things that we're going to need to do to stabilize once the water comes down, to assess what the full damage is and the length of that corridor, but also, with the right people, assessing whether it makes sense to build here in the future.”
Sholly described the challenge of the initial rescue response, simply to get park visitors and employees to safety.
“Not only...was the park full of visitors, but the gateway communities were also full including Gardiner,” he said. “We had to make a decision yesterday because of unsafe conditions to move all of the visitors out of northern Yellowstone and we pushed them south into the southern loop. The town of Gardiner was cut off on the other side because of flooding on Highway 89 into Montana, which has since just recently reopened over the last couple of hours. We had several thousand visitors stranded in Gardiner along with residents because they couldn't come into the park because of the road damage and they couldn't exit to the north to Livingston because of road damage.”
Sholly said crucial decisions were made to protect people in Yellowstone Park.
"We went ahead and made the decision to clear the park of visitors completely," he said. "As of this morning, all visitors are currently out of Yellowstone because it's mid-June because Yellowstone has a lot of backcountry use. We had a large number of backcountry campers and users that we've tracked and made contact with. We have put a full closure of the Yellowstone backcountry into place. And we have contacted or know the whereabouts of every backcountry user, currently in Yellowstone."
Sholly said the road ahead for the summer of 2022 is dismal.
“Most of you know that you also can receive up to a million people per month and a million visits per month in the summer months,” he said. “We will likely not reopen the road between Gardiner and Cooke City for the rest of this season looking at the damage. I'll stay as optimistic as possible, but even if we got started right now, I'm not sure we could get the road on the northern end reopened."
Listen to Superintendent Cam Sholly's full remarks here:
Park County Commissioner Bill Berg also spoke to the press about the physical and economic impacts of the flood on his community.
“It’s a little bit ironic that the spectacular landscape was created by violent geologic and hydrologic events, but it's just not very handy when it happens,” began Berg. “Park County actually gets its name from Yellowstone Park. Park County has two of Yellowstone's five entrances and as you saw from that map, one is Gardiner, Montana established 140 years ago the other is Cooke City and Silver Gate, and the only way to get to Cooke City and Silver Gate for our county staff is through Yellowstone Park.”
Berg related the heartbreaking situation for the people and businesses of Park County that exist almost completely on revenue from Yellowstone Park visitors.
“The businesses I talked to had reservations that were running even stronger for this summer,” he said. “Now that's all gone. So businesses are already trying to sort out what they're going to do with their seasonal staff. They can't afford to keep them and their business projections are shot. Reservations are being canceled. Folks are asking for refunds, which is understandable, but some businesses may have already spent that money.”
Berg provided more details on what Park County faces from the Yellowstone flood.
“This is hitting just a couple of weeks after Memorial Day, so it's going to be pretty tough for Gardiner businesses to recover. And that's not even to mention the impacts to the infrastructure. We're still assessing the damage to the sewer and water system in Gardiner. The sewer system actually serves Mammoth Hot Springs as well. So that's critical for all of us. Most of us consider Mammoth and Gardiner even though we span two counties and two states and most of us consider that to be one community. So we have a lot to work on together.”
Berg attempted to inject some dark humor into the disastrous situation facing his county.
“It's, no pun intended, a fluid situation,” he said. "As Cam mentioned, we'd like to think the highest of the water is already behind us, but we can't say that for sure just yet. There's still quite a bit of snow up high. But we have been given a little bit of a timeout here. The rivers backed off quite a bit, and that's what has allowed the roads to open up and for us to kind of start to take stock and figure out what next steps are.”
Listen to Park County Commissioner Bill Berg's full remarks here: