Yellowstone National Park has been closed for days to visitors due to flooding and mudslides that have taken out roads and bridges, downed trees and pushed a beloved fishing river off course.
“All park entrances and roads are temporarily closed due to extremely hazardous conditions from recent flooding,” says an alert on the park’s website. “The backcountry is also closed at this time. Visitors planning on traveling to the park in coming weeks should check updates and stay informed.”
The closure of the park will extend at least through Sunday, June 19. The northern section of the park, which has been most impacted, will likely “remain closed for a substantial length of time due to severely damaged, impacted infrastructure,” according to a park statement.
While the park’s southern loop is less impacted, park officials are analyzing how many visitors can safely visit the southern loop once it’s safe to reopen. “This will likely mean implementation of some type of temporary reservation system to prevent gridlock and reduce impacts on park infrastructure,” says the statement.
“Many sections of road in these areas are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct,” according to park officials. “It is probable that road sections in northern Yellowstone will not reopen this season due to the time required for repairs.”
The towns in Montana near the northern entrance of Yellowstone have seen the greatest impact from flooding. Businesses had just started really recovering from the tourism contraction brought by the coronavirus pandemic, and were hoping for a good year, Bill Berg, a Park County official, told the Associated Press. Yellowstone towns live and die by tourism, he said. “This is going to be a pretty big hit.”
“The landscape literally and figuratively has changed dramatically in the last 36 hours,” Berg told the AP.
The road from Gardiner, Montana, at the park’s North Entrance to Mammoth Hot Springs has been washed out in multiple places, including a significant rockslide at Gardner Canyon.
Officials will reassess where to rebuild roads, possibly in new places further away from rivers.
Mudslides have damaged and blocked multiple roads, including at Tower Junction to Northeast Entrance and Tower-Roosevelt to Canyon Junction via the Dunraven Pass.
Days of unrelenting rain and snowmelt last weekend led to a 14-and-a-half foot rise in the Yellowstone River, a historic event that climate experts warn could become more common in the future.
The Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, published last year by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana State University, University of Wyoming and other institutions, found that the temperature of watersheds in the Greater Yellowstone Area rose 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1950 to 2018. Notably, researchers project a 5.2 degree increase by 2100.
“Average temperature of the last two decades (2001-2020) is probably as high or higher than any period in the last 20,000 years, and likely higher than previous glacial and interglacial periods in the last 800,000 years,” the report noted.