Tourism

With Yellowstone Closed, Tourist Towns Worry About What’s Next

Business owners in tourist cities fear closure could be a death sentence

The Yellowstone River flows through the city of Gardiner, Montana, days after the river flooded to historic levels.  Restaurants and many businesses are closed.  (Photo by Louise Jones for The Washington Post)
The Yellowstone River flows through the city of Gardiner, Montana, days after the river flooded to historic levels. Restaurants and many businesses are closed. (Photo by Louise Jones for The Washington Post)

Before the disaster, Rebecca Stoneberger was preparing for the start of the summer tourist season. She just extended hours at Bears Brew, her coffee shop in Gardiner, Montana, a gateway town on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.

Last week, historic flooding from heavy rainfall and excess snowmelt caused the Yellowstone River to rise to record highs within hours. Stoneberger and her community watched helplessly as the flood swept away her neighbor’s home, which is home to families working in Yellowstone National Park. Shortly thereafter, Jeff Reed saw the same building float past his hotel business, Reedfly Farm, downstream in Paradise Valley.

Gardiner “This is Yellowstone City. It lives and dies on tourism and it will be a pretty big success.”

— Bill Berg, Park County Commissioner

The damage was so severe that the entire park was closed. Park Superintendent Cam Scholley said at a press conference that he believes this is the first time in Yellowstone’s 150-year history that flooding has forced it to close.

More than three decades ago, the park was closed due to forest fires. Scholley said Tuesday that the South Loop could be reopened as early as next week, where visitors can access the Old Faithful Geyser, Grand Prismatic Spring and other well-known Yellowstone attractions. But the destruction of the north loop and its entrances to Gardiner and Cook City has caused the most uncertainty, not only for park visitors, but also for tourism-dependent communities.

Everything visitors need to know about Yellowstone’s closure

Gardiner is the city of Yellowstone, Park County Commissioner Bill Berg said during a news conference. “He lives and dies on tourism and that’s going to be a pretty big success.” Early discussions suggest that road repairs could take up to 24 months.

“The news we all get today” is that “it could be one year, two years. Everyone here needs to be ready for 24 months of hard times,” Victor Kaufman, owner of Cowboy’s Lodge and Grille and partner at Gardiner’s Iron Horse Bar & Grill, said after a community meeting.

For those affected, it was like a natural disaster. “What we’ve been through in the last couple of years is almost biblical. We had a plague and then a flood,” said Colin Davis, owner of Chico Hot Springs at Emigrant in Paradise Valley, located about halfway between Livingston and Gardiner.

“What is the next disaster? I think we’re all waiting for a locust invasion,” echoed Tim Wymer, director of marketing for the Red Lodge Chamber of Commerce, Yellowstone, at the end of the Bear Tooth Scenic Highway. Shooting from the air…

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