Vehicles lined up at three of the five entrance gates to Yellowstone National Park last week as it prepared to partially reopen after record flooding devastated the region, washing away roads, bridges and even homes.
Residents in swamped gateway communities – including Gardiner, Red Lodge and Cooke City – were still contemplating what the future may hold. And the park, itself, may be forever changed. Superintendent Cam Sholly said as much: “This is not going to be an easy rebuild. I don’t think it’s going to be smart to invest potentially, you know, tens of millions of dollars, or however much it is, into repairing a road that may be subject to seeing a similar flooding event in the future.”
Damaged roads may be rerouted, bridges relocated, and buildings set back further from the Yellowstone River. In all, it will take billions of dollars to repair the country’s oldest national park and its surrounding communities. And it will be worth it.
In a way, Yellowstone introduced me to the outdoors. As a college student, I applied to work for the National Park Service more for the pay than the scenery. But the two summers I spent there – working four days each week hauling trash and spending the next three exploring the unique landscape – were among the best of my life.
There’s a reason the place is so special to so many people. The combination of wildlife, natural wonders and historic infrastructure make it wholly unique. There are famous geysers, of course, but also hot springs and waterfalls. There are wild bison, of course, but also howling wolves and roaming moose. Then there are the old hotels that have welcomed generations of visitors. They have large porches where you can sit for hours overlooking what has been called “America’s best idea.”
Living in and traversing the park for months on end allowed me to witness the visitors’ reactions to see Old Faithful erupt. To hear the “oohs” and “aahs” after seeing such a strange natural phenomenon for the very first time. I would watch cars line up on the side of the road to catch a glimpse of the wildlife, even if the wildlife was as boring as a pronghorn (nothing against pronghorn).
Some tourists carried with them a sense of pride as they hiked along the terrain. Yellowstone and America’s other national parks are a great unifier. We can point to them and say, “We did this! We disagree about a lot of things, but we preserved this instead of screwing it up.”
Before the east entrance of the park opened last week, a reporter interviewed Muris Demirovic of Miami. When he initially arrived in the area, the park was closed due to flooding, so he and his mother stayed in the nearby town of Cody, Wyoming, attended a rodeo and visited a museum. They arrived at the gate to Yellowstone at 5:30 a.m. on June 22 to make sure they were near the front of the line.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me and my mom, so I had to make sure she sees this,” Demirovic said.
They won’t be able to see it all. On Yellowstone’s 150th anniversary, the northern half of the park will remain inaccessible for months, if not longer. But for those who plan on visiting, the trip will still be worth
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