Postcard from Yellowstone: ‘Floods have devastated the landscape, but Mother Nature will bounce back’ | Travel

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I I’ve been a naturalist guide in Yellowstone National Park since 2007, and the reason for that is the visitors. I feel pure joy to share this place with people who have never experienced it – you can walk alone in pristine wilderness, feel a gentle breeze and warm sun on your back and see grizzly bears teaching their young to feed among the trees. I will never get tired of watching the reaction of visitors when they hear their first wolf howl or see the Old Faithful geyser erupt – it’s like opening presents on Christmas morning.

Last summer, I was leading an eight-year-old boy through a herd of bison on the road, and as we slowly moved through them, he was beside himself. He kept saying, “Is it even real?” What’s going on?” He couldn’t believe he was witnessing the natural world firsthand, rather than through a TV screen. That’s why places like Yellowstone are so important.

The 150th anniversary of the park’s founding fell in March, and visitor numbers this year are expected to break records – even more than the 4.8 million recorded in 2021. That was until 4:30 a.m. on June 13, when a devastating flash flood triggered landslides and rockfalls, ripping up large tracts of land – roads and livestock were washed away and trees were torn in two by the force of the water.

Where I live in Gardiner, Montana, on the northern edge of the park, an entire building was undermined by the torrent and swept downstream. There were six families living there – they escaped, but lost everything they owned. One of my guides almost lost her life – she was coming to work early in the morning and her small car hit the water crossing the road; miraculously, she survived.

The flooding was almost unprecedented – the US Geological Survey (USGS) calls it a once-in-500-year event. To put it into perspective, water from the previous flood in 1997 passed through Yellowstone at a rate of 31,000 cubic feet per second; the recent flood damaged our gauges, but the USGS estimated that this time it was nearly double that.

Over Memorial Day weekend at the end of May, we received a lot of snow, followed by warm temperatures less than a week later and several inches of rain. In 24 hours, the level of the rivers that run through the park – and as far as Gardiner and Livingstone, more than 50 miles to the north – rose by several feet.

For a while, Gardiner was cut off, with no clean water or electricity. And locals weren’t the only ones affected – thousands of tourists were trapped in hotels and the local food market very quickly faced a critical shortage, so the National Guard was called in to airlift stationery. The road to the north is now open, but we still cannot access the park.

A bison and a calf from the park

GETTY PICTURES

As a small business owner, I’m terrified. We’ve temporarily laid off staff and don’t know how long this will last – we’ve been told it could last between a month and two years, and customers are canceling bookings. We qualify for small business loans, but under no circumstances would we be able to repay them. We pursued other opportunities and begged the U.S. Forest Service to issue licenses so we could conduct tours in Greater Yellowstone, which is outside the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, but we’re just told it’s ” see if it’s possible” — there is so much bureaucracy.

The spirits of people in this area are strong, but the fallout from the flooding follows a fire that destroyed businesses including restaurants and a rafting business, and Covid, of course. Yellowstone itself exploded during the pandemic, however – the masses descended in record numbers when it reopened in June 2020. One of the symptoms of Covid was cabin fever, and the park allowed people to recover. The animals acted as if they had forgotten we existed, moving closer than usual to the roads for a while.

The park’s southern entrances reopened on Wednesday under a temporary system designed to manage crowds, and guests have begun returning to star attractions such as Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and Grand Prismatic Hot Springs. But the north entrance remains closed – if we were to walk around the outskirts of the closed area it would take three hours, and we can’t ask our staff to do it, then lead an eight hour tour before heading back home to do it all. again the next morning.

Even when all entrances reopen, it will be years before we can return to heavily impacted areas such as Lamar Valley, where we had seen incredible wolf activity, with lots of pups. On the bright side, however, the continued closure will be good for the animals, which can go wild again, safe from the threat of cars.

I am optimistic about the future of the park, as Mother Nature always takes care of her. The flora and fauna here have survived wildfires for millennia and will continue to thrive, and we just need to sit back and let that happen.

Tyrene Riedl is a naturalist guide and general manager of Yellowstone Wild (yellowstonewildtours.com). She spoke to Georgia Stephens

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