MAMMOTH - During a call with Yellowstone National Park employees and the public, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly urged people on the call to leave the Gardiner area as soon as possible, while conditions allow.
He said there is no telling when there could be more road damage that blocks the route. He said the Mammoth to Gardiner road in the park is closed for the foreseeable future.
Officials said Tuesday a road has been opened into Gardiner to allow supplies into the community and tourists a path out. The Park County Sheriff's Office the road into the town on the edge of the northern border of Yellowstone National Park will be open for local traffic only.
Sholly also said that the accommodations in Mammoth and Roosevelt are likely to be closed for the remainder of the season. Concession businesses have been asked to evacuate their employees. He noted that power has been out in Mammoth, Canyon, Lake and Norris for 24 hours. He says the park is working with NorthWestern Energy to get electricity restored. He also said there are serious wastewater issues in both Mammoth and Gardiner to address.
Sholly said the old Gardiner Road which leads from the north entrance of the park to Mammoth is being readied for traffic. But he notes it is a rough gravel road and will need substantial improvement. He added that is unclear what kind of traffic it will be able to handle. In the interim, emergency and resupply vehicles are attempting to use the old road. He noted that the current, paved road, from Gardiner to Mammoth is heavily damaged and will be closed for the foreseeable future. However, the park vows to repair and reopen the road along the existing route.
According to Sholly, officials are finishing evacuations of the southern part of the park today and are checking backcountry sites. He says it may be necessary to fly some out some stranded backcountry campers.
Sholly said it is unclear when the southern part of the park will reopen but says when it does entrance permits may be required, at least on a temporary basis.
Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said Tuesday at noon that the road is now open to Gardiner for local traffic and services only. The speed limit through the canyon and on East River Road will be set at 35 mph in areas crews are still working on.
Park officials will meet with Cody, West Yellowstone and Gardiner officials as soon as possible to discuss efforts to provide support for visitors and employees and when visitation can resume.
Park officials decided Monday to clear the entire park of visitors, including a full backcountry closure, and five parties are possibly stranded. Park officials said flights will happen Tuesday to try and make contact with those groups.
In a social media post, a summary of what's going to be happening over the next few days was issued from the Yellowstone National Park Superintendent's Office:
If you have plans to visit YNP this summer, you are encouraged to rethink them and work with Xanterra and other lodging, activities, car rentals, etc to modify those.
Here are the short and long-term objectives we've set and will be focused on as a park for recovery:
- Ensure safety of employees and visitors• Implement full visitor closure of the northern loop (completed yesterday)
- Implement full visitor closure of the southern loop (ongoing target completion today)
- Implement full visitor closure of the backcountry (in process)• Evaluate needs for backcountry evacuations (begin today - assess how many people are in the backcountry, evacuation plan)
- Improve Old Gardiner Road (work should begin on this today or tomorrow once precipitation subsides. Plan will be to use this road for admin travel and to evacuate visitors from Gardiner should Hwy 89 remain impassable)
- Restore power to northern Yellowstone sites and Canyon, Lake, and Norris (Northwestern Energy working on this now and are saying should be restored today)
- Evacuate Gardiner visitors through Old Gardiner Road if necessary (likely Thursday or Friday if possible and if Hwy 89 is not open)
- Support Gardiner residents with resupply of food, water and medicine (we will be working with the Gardiner Market and others to determine needs of the community. We may bring supply trucks to Mammoth and fly supplies to Gardiner using the park's aircraft and potentially National Guard air support; working with county and state)
- Support isolated NPS residents at NE entrance with resupply through aircraft when necessary (employees at NE entrance are sheltering in place, we are in contact with them and will gauge their needs to provide assistance. They are cut off from Cooke City)
- Provide support to Cooke City residents as necessary
- Mitigate wastewater impacts of destroyed sewer lines in Gardiner and Mammoth (ongoing)
- Relocate all Mammoth-based concessions employees to properties on the southern loop (happening today and tomorrow)
- Halt and redirect any inbound employees hired to work in Mammoth or Tower who haven't arrived yet
- Support employees who lost housing in Gardiner (multiple actions)• Prepare for outside teams to travel to Yellowstone and assist with damage assessments when water recedes (mixture of Federal Highways, NPS, and other)
- Prepare strategy for reservation system for southern loop for remainder of the year (we will not allow full visitation into the southern loop when it reopens and are working on options to control the amount of visitors who can enter the park; southern loop will likely not open for another 5 days at minimum)
- Develop long-term reconstruction strategy based on damage assessments; funding strategies TBD with region/WASO/DOI
• Continue substantive communications with gateway communities, congressional and DOI/NPS leadership