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This story comes from What You Missed, Outside’s daily digest of breaking news and topical perspectives from across the outdoor world. You can also get this news delivered to your email inbox six days a week by signing up for the What You Missed newsletter.
Tourists entered northern parts of Yellowstone National Park over the weekend for the first time since floods devastated the area in mid-June.
There was a caveat to their visit: they were only allowed in because they were accompanied by commercial guides. Park officials told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that they are now permitting guided tours only to drive through the park’s northwestern entrance via Old Gardiner Road. (The route runs parallel to the damaged North Entrance Road, the traditional way into Yellowstone from the town of Gardiner, Montana.)
“We’re going to continue to build this system as we go and look at the capacity of the travel windows on that road,” Cam Sholly, the park’s superintendent, told the newspaper. “Where possible, we’ll get more and more guides with visitors up the road so they can get into the park.”
The first visits occurred on the morning of Saturday, June 2. Fourteen wildlife and fishing guides drove clients into the park, with more guided tours entering Yellowstone during agreed-upon times Sunday and Monday.
“The fact that we got any guides in this quickly—in less than three weeks—I think it’s a positive step,”Sholly said.
The development brings the park one step closer to being fully operational less than a month after areas were destroyed by unprecedented flooding. From June 12 to 13, a weather system called an “atmospheric river” dumped between 200 and 300 percent of normal moisture levels over parts of Montana and Wyoming. Rivers swelled, creeks became torrents, and floodwaters washed out bridges and roadways. Park officials evacuated all visitors and closed entrances, telling media that the north and northeast gates would likely stay shut for weeks.
The floods preceded a whirlwind operation to reopen Yellowstone amid its peak season. On June 22, the park reopened its southern driving loop—and approximately 80 percent of its available roadways—after receiving a $50 million injection of emergency funding. Park officials said they would keep visitations low by implementing an alternating license plate system.
Then, on July 2, the park reopened its northern loop and scrapped the crowd-management system, granting visitors access to 93 percent of Yellowstone’s roadways. According to a press release, the only remaining closed driving areas are North Entrance Road and Northeast Entrance Road. Tourists can still enter those areas on foot to hike or fish in places that are not identified as being closed.
The plan to allow guides to still access the park could provide a lifeline to businesses in southwestern Montana impacted by the floods. Staff at various outfitters told the Chronicle they were thankful for being able to access Yellowstone, even if it was for limited amounts of time.
Emil McCain, owner of the guiding company Yellowstone Wild Tours, told the Chronicle that his clients saw bears, a wolf, and bison when they visited over the weekend.
“The system of being able to access the park via the Old Gardiner Road is 100 percent critical for businesses to be able to survive this season,” McCain said.