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Yellowstone National Park deals with the aftermath of record-breaking floods


I grew up in southeast Idaho, not too far from Yellowstone National Park, and right now my social media feeds are full of photos of the historic flooding in the park and surrounding areas. Swollen rivers have swallowed up houses and roads. People are stranded, vacations upended. Some entrances to Yellowstone National Park could reopen tomorrow, but as Olivia Weitz with Yellowstone Public Radio tells us, some roads are so damaged that a big portion of the park will probably stay off-limits throughout the busy summer tourist season.

OLIVIA WEITZ, BYLINE: The worst damage in Yellowstone National Park is to its northern end, near park headquarters. The northern gateway town of Gardiner, Mont., was cut off for about 24 hours after roads washed out Monday. The main road reopened yesterday but only to locals and essential goods going in and tourists going out. Park Superintendent Cam Sholly advised tourists to leave quickly.


CAM SHOLLY: You just saw what just happened, so don't wait around and see if another event happens or if more road collapses or whatever. I would take advantage of getting out of here while you can.

WEITZ: Sholly said the southern loop of Yellowstone's road system didn't sustain as much damage and could be reopened soon, but he said they need to do it carefully.

SHOLLY: Half the park cannot support all of the vegetation. So we are exploring a range of options.

WEITZ: Portions of the park's north loop will probably not reopen until next spring due to the time needed for repairs, Sholly said.

SHOLLY: North entrance and northeast entrance will remain closed until we figure out what we're going to do on the northern end.

WEITZ: That's bad news for Stacey Joy, owner of the Wonderland Cafe and Lodge in Gardiner. She was still serving a limited menu yesterday, but it's tough as the town is under a boil-water order due to flooding.

STACEY JOY: We usually have a line out the door for coffee and espresso, something that we cannot do right now just because the water temperature is not at a temperature for long enough to make that water safe.

WEITZ: A Gardiner resident for the past 11 years, Joy has lived through prior park closures and is hoping for the best, even as unfortunate news continues to come in about park roads.

JOY: Just the devastation of the roads and bridges. Who knows if the north entrance is going to be a viable option for tourism this year. I'm anxious to see what those plans are.

WEITZ: Joy says dozens of guests have already canceled reservations and want refunds. And the devastation stretches far downstream from Yellowstone National Park. Erica Lighthiser joined dozens of her neighbors in Livingston, about 50 miles away, filling sandbags as the river started to spill out into neighborhoods along the river.

ERICA LIGHTHISER: We've got a giant pile of sand and hundreds of white bags, and people are filling up the bags three-quarters full of sand and tying them off and loading them up into trucks.

WEITZ: The river crested at 11 p.m., forcing evacuations, including Livingston's hospital. The water has receded for now, but officials warn it could rise again.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Make yourselves at home (laughter).

WEITZ: A hundred miles east in Red Lodge, dozens of people who'd just been evacuated by a National Guard helicopter were gathered at the county fairgrounds. Katie Wise, a 46-year-old musician visiting from Colorado, was one.

KATIE WISE: I'm pretty adrenalized right now. I'm kind of like - my heart is pounding 'cause - the most stressful part was that we didn't know the helicopters were coming. So we had just been talking about how we were going to do the whole water and rationing food and, like, that's - we were going to do a food inventory and gather back as a community. And then it was like, you have 10 minutes. Pack your bags. We're getting on (laughter) a military helicopter.

WEITZ: Much of the town of Red Lodge was flooded, and it's a similar story for communities along the Yellowstone River, from the national park to Billings. And it may not be over yet, as forecasted warm temperatures could cause flooding again this weekend.

For NPR News, I'm Olivia Weitz in Bozeman, Mont. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Olivia Weitz