SILVERGATE - Wild animals and wildlife watchers are moving into the northeast portion of Yellowstone National Park, and the communities nearby, since the early June flooding closed the park roads there to traffic.
Business owners in the gateway communities of Silvergate and Cooke City are hoping wildlife watchers and bikers will help bring in more tourism business.
Since wolves were reintroduced to Lamar Valley in Yellowstone in 1995, hundreds of thousands of people came to see them and grizzlies in what came to be known as the Serengeti of North America.
The tourists often stayed in Silvergate and Cooke City nearby, generating millions of dollars of business to the hotels, stores and restaurants in the gateway communities.
But the floods of early June destroyed parts of the roadway through Lamar, and the northeast entrance of the park was closed. That means fewer tourists and cars coming through here now.
It’s often said nature fills a vacuum, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. People who live in the area say they’ve seen wolves and bears walking down the highway now that the traffic’s gone.
“Last week we had a wolf, a quarter mile, I’m looking at where the wolf was…midday, bout this time of day.....we had a grizzly bear at the park entrance yesterday about this time," Silvergate business owner Henry Finkbeiner said.
The head of the area's chamber of commerce recalled Yellowstone’s iconic wildlife are often seen in and around the villages.
“We have the wolves traveling back and forth, we have the grizzlies, we have the black bear, we have the moose," said Terri Briggs, president of the Colter Pass-Cooke City-Silvergate Chamber of Commerce
One Minnesota couple detoured to Silvergate on their way to Colorado after they heard the news about the park closure.
“We just walked into the Park, and there’s exactly no care, and no other humans so we got a lot of pictures and we’ll remember this forever," said tourist Mitch Osterholt.
Zak Lynd came all the way from Bozeman twice to hike six miles into Yellowstone alone because the park is closed to traffic.
"Here we are in one of the most incredible places on the planet. and an opportunity they won’t have again," he said.
Lynd pointed out the gateway towns are fed by two scenic highways:
He said they were “Chief Joseph and the Beartooth Highway, which will be open in just a few weeks so you can come from Red Lodge and Cody.”
According to a recent chamber survey, most of the residents want to remove the snow plug that keeps automobiles from driving in during the winter. That snow plug is preferred by many snowmobilers, but Briggs said next winter might be a good time to experiment and see if the road could be groomed to allow snowmobiles and automobiles to come to Cooke City from Wyoming.