Yellowstone National Park officials said Wednesday the road connecting the northern gate in Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs that was heavily damaged in flooding on Monday is unlikely to be rebuilt in the same spot.
The roughly 5-mile stretch of road connecting the town and Mammoth was wiped out in some spots during widespread flooding that also cut off Gardiner from the world and stranded thousands of tourists.
“It would be a bad investment, to just rebuild and then have another flood event wipe that out,” said Park Superintendent Cam Sholly during a conference call with West Yellowstone business owners and residents on Wednesday about rebuilding the road in the same corridor.
Gardiner has access to Livingston via Highway 89, and Silver Gate and Cooke City are accessible from the Chief Joseph Highway.
Sholly said they are putting effort into assessing other options, like if the Old Gardiner Road between the town and Mammoth could be used as a temporary fix before a more permanent solution can be put into place.
“We have put a substantial amount of effort into developing a road design and making some road improvements to this Old Gardiner Road here between Gardiner and Mammoth with the intent of trying to connect Mammoth to Gardiner as quickly as possible,” Sholly said.
Power has been restored to Mammoth — home to the park’s headquarters — after being out for about 30 hours, Sholly said.
The park is also assessing damage to other roads in the northern part of the park, Sholly said, and in the southern loop of the park, where issues are far less extensive.
There is no set opening date yet for the southern loop, Sholly said, but the park is hoping to do so “as quickly as possible.”
With the northern entrances expected to be closed for a while, and “no way” just the southern loop can handle all the visitors that usually spread through the entire park, Yellowstone is planning to implement a reservation system to limit the number of visitors going into the west, east and southern gates.
Sholly said they are still trying to figure out how the system will work, including how many spots will be allocated to each gate on any given day and at what times, how far in advance people will be able to get their reservations and how to balance them with lodging reservations.
During the call, which included several lodging owners in West Yellowstone, Sholly emphasized that the reservation system will not launch for a few weeks and may not go smoothly from the jump.
“It will not be perfect, I can assure you, but it’s also adjustable,” Sholly said.
The southern loop will open before the reservation system is open, Sholly said.
“We’re not going to keep the southern loop closed for 3 to 4 weeks but we’re going to have a gap of several weeks where we won’t have the system,” Sholly said.
Business owners on the call expressed concern about what to tell guests and how to handle those already booked to stay at their hotels and lodges this summer who don’t know if or how they will be able to get into the park.
Others were concerned about how a reservation system might impact traffic in West Yellowstone, which can gridlock on some days.
“It would be crazy for any of us to think it’ll be perfect,” Sholly said. “It’s not a normal summer in the park. Even though the southern loop will be open, it’ll be restricted.”