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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Crowds flock to Yellowstone as park reopens after flooding


YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK ( Associated Press) — Crowds of tourists watched in glee as the legendary Old Faithful geyser spews high plumes of steaming water, while others got stuck in “buffalo jams” on the valley’s scenic roads as visitors returned Wednesday for the partial opening of Yellowstone National park after a devastating flood.

Park managers have opened gates at three of Yellowstone’s five entrances for the first time since June 13, when 10,000 visitors were sent out after rivers through northern Wyoming and southern Montana burst their banks after heavy rains hastened spring snowmelt. The cost and extent of the damage is still being assessed, Yellowstone superintendent Cam Scholley said Wednesday.

By mid-morning, empty roads and car parks quickly became busier as about 5,000 vehicles entered the park after long lines stretched for miles (kilometers) at one gate in the early morning. However, the backups were gone by noon and the number of visitors was less than a typical summer day that attracts about 10,000 vehicles, park officials said in a press release.

Paul Nityanand from Chennai, India, gathered around Old Faithful along with 1,500 people in the afternoon to watch it erupt. Nityanand has traveled the US west with his brother and has already seen the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas but hasn’t said anything about his trip compared to Old Faithful.

“It’s amazing,” said Nityanand, who was so impressed that he waited about 80 minutes for it to erupt again. “I’ve seen it in movies and on YouTube, but seeing it live is amazing.”

Lonnie and Graham McMillan from Vancouver, Canada, were among those who participated in the so-called “buffalo jam” when a group of portly animals crossed the road. Buffalo watching rounded off a good morning when they saw two elk and a lot of deer.

They showed up at the park last week, but they were turned down as it was being evacuated. They headed to Mount Rushmore in South Dakota for a few days and then to the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming before returning to Yellowstone as soon as the opportunity arose.

“The main purpose of our trip was to come here,” said Lonnie McMillan. “We weren’t going to go home until we got here.”

Record-breaking floods have reshaped the park’s rivers and canyons, wiped out numerous roads, and left some areas known for wildlife sightings inaccessible for perhaps months. It came just as the summer tourist season, which attracts millions of visitors, was gaining momentum, with the park celebrating its 150th anniversary a year after it racked up a record 4.9 million visits.

Some of the top attractions in America’s first national park are once again viewable, including Old Faithful, which shoots out streams of steaming water almost like clockwork more than a dozen times a day.

But the bears, wolves and bison roaming the wild Lamar Valley and the thermal features around the Mammoth Hot Springs will remain out of reach. The wildlife-rich northern half of the park will remain closed until at least early July, with key routes to the park remaining closed near the Montana tourist towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge and Cook City.

Muris Demirovich, 43, from Miami, and his 70-year-old mother arrived at the east entrance around 5:30 a.m. and were second in line of dozens of vehicles. He and his mother from Bosnia traveled the country visiting national parks, and Yellowstone was at the top of their list.

However, when they arrived, it was closed due to flooding. Demirovich and his mother toured Cody, Wyoming, visited a rodeo, walked several trails, and visited a museum. They planned to leave the Yellowstone area on Monday but stayed when they learned the park would reopen.

“This trip is a once in a lifetime experience for me and my mom, so I had to make sure she saw it,” he said.

To reduce visitor numbers while renovations continue, park managers use a system that, with a few exceptions, only allows cars with even last digits on their license plates to enter on even days, while cars with odd last numbers can enter on odd days. days.

According to Scholley, park rangers had to turn down less than 1% of people in line due to license plate problems, and they turned them down before they got into long lines to enter the park.

If traffic on the park’s 400-mile (644-kilometre) roads becomes unmanageable, officials could switch to a reservation system, Scholley said.

The discovery comes as officials at Yellowstone are still calculating damages. Judging by other disasters in national parks, recovery can take years and be costly. It is an ecologically sensitive landscape with a huge underground plumbing system that feeds the geysers, hot springs, and other thermal features of the park. The construction season only lasts from the spring thaw to the first snowfall, meaning some roads may only receive temporary repairs this year.

This has turned some Montana communities into dead ends instead of gateways to Yellowstone, hurting their tourism-dependent economies. They are also still trying to repair damage to several hundred homes and businesses that were flooded.

Scholley said he initially thought the damage was greater than it actually is, but stressed that parts of the park are still bad. This includes what he called “catastrophic” damage to one road near Gardiner, Montana, which cannot be repaired in the same canyon.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Scholley said. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t very serious, and it doesn’t mean it won’t take long to recover.”

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, who was criticized last week for not saying he was out of the country for two days after the flood, was not at the park for Wednesday’s opening. Spokeswoman Brooke Stroyke said Gianforte was to meet with cabinet ministers and receive information on flood response and recovery.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon was also not in the park, spokesman Michael Perlman said.

Tiffany Jan of Kenosha, Wisconsin, who lined up with her husband and daughter at Wyoming’s south entrance, said she was thrilled to see everything still open and was especially looking forward to seeing the park’s wildlife.

“Actually, we came over last week and we got messages… that said, ‘Don’t come, don’t come,’” she said. “But we were already here, so we just changed our plans and made them work. ”


Hanson reported from Helena, Montana. Associated Press writer Rebecca Santana at the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming contributed to this report.

World Nation News Desk
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