Flooding in Yellowstone National Park closed one of the main roads to a nearby town. : NPR

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After weeks of flooding that cut off much of Yellowstone National Park from the surrounding areas, officials repaired an old bus route so that a limited number of visitors could get in and out of an inlet along the Montana border. The temporary road is also a kind of lifeline to a neighboring city that relies on summer tourism. Olivia Weitz reports from Yellowstone Public Radio.
Olivia Weitz, Belin: Raging floodwaters in June destroyed hundreds of feet of paved roads, and now the entrance from the neighboring town of Gardiner, Montana, is closed. It is expected to remain that way for at least two years. It’s very bad news for tour companies, says Emile McCain, who owns a wildlife guide company.
Emile McCain: Without access to the parks, Gardiner’s economy would have been collapsing.
Weitz: But in July, the park opened a lifeline, a dirt road usually used only by cyclists and one-way vehicular traffic. It took a lot of heavy equipment work to make it more drivable. But now the park service allows a limited number of guide service vehicles to use the road to bring tourists into the park. Guide Matt DeMassino says it’s called Old Gardiner Road and dates back to the stagecoach era.
Matt DiMacino: Chester A. Arthur, the first president to visit the park, came this way, so I’m going to start calling it Presidential Road instead of the old Gardiner Road.
Witz: The road winds sharply through the hills of sagebrush into the huge mineral deposits flowing in Mammoth Hot Springs. Soon after the truck returns to a section of paved road still intact, the guide stops in a vast green area to watch the wildlife. The stag is nesting among some willows near a stream.
What do you see down there?
Harry Boys: I’m trying to look at the bear through binoculars and the camera.
Witz: Harry Boys of the Netherlands is here with his son, Jean Leon, to see Yellowstone for the first time.
Jane Lyon Boys: I love the animals we’ve seen and I was really surprised to see the wolf. I did not expect that.
Witz: In a normal summer, this road is often crowded with cars, which congregate along narrow retreats when someone spots wildlife. Lynn Harvey, a visitor from Texas, was planning to drive her rental car to the park. You didn’t know the entrance from Gardiner was closed until you got to Montana. You signed up for this tour and were not disappointed.
Lynn Harvey: And with white water rafting and trips to the park, I don’t think you miss anything. I mean, we don’t feel like we’ve lost anything but leadership. And I’m happy.
Weitz: On a recent weekend day, 30 such rides entered the park through the Gardiner entrance. That’s compared to about 1,700 cars on a typical summer day. Park superintendent Cam Shuli says the goal is to open up as much of the park as possible for the benefit of the tourists and businesses that depend on their spending—more than $230 million annually at this end of the park alone.
Cam Choli: Everything we can do as quickly as possible to restore some level of access to those communities is very important to us.
Weitz: Schole says it’ll likely be years before there’s a permanent repair to Gardiner’s park entrance road. For now, the park is trying to strike a balance between allowing guides to use the old road and making sure construction crews can clear it for tourists to start using within this fall.
Shuli: We all know it wouldn’t be normal. We also know that it can’t just be wide open on Old Gardiner Road, because if we don’t give those contractors time to work and they don’t finish the road before winter, it opens up a whole bunch of problems we’re going to have to deal with.
Weitz: The companies that rely on tourism in Gardiner are grateful to have restored at least some access to the park. But four hotels and three restaurants in the town of 900 have already closed. Absaroka Inn, occupancy 41, is still open. Kiana Linares works at the front desk here. You showed me the lower level rooms right above the banks of the Yellowstone River.
Kiana Linaris: Eight rooms here – all empty now. There is no strength in any of them.
Weitz: The Chamber of Commerce says there’s no way that 30 or so guided tours a day can keep Gardiner fully intact. Linares says very few people are pre-booking now.
LINARES: I don’t think we actually had any people who checked in and actually booked tours. I think they book them when they get here once they realize they can’t get in unless they book a tour or drive to West Yellowstone.
Weitz: That’s about a three-hour drive from here. If Yellowstone is able to get the temporary road from Gardiner cleared this fall as planned and allow visitors to drive in their own cars, that will help the city recover. It is also hoped that there will be a good winter tourist season as the entrance to the park in Gardiner is the only one that remains open all year round.
For NPR News, I’m Olivia Weitz from Gardiner, Mont.

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