Yellowstone National Park Pushes Back Full Reopening from Flood Damage: Report

by Jon D. B.
Left: Old Gardiner Road improvement progress on Oct. 4, 2022. Right: Northeast Entrance Road improvement progress on Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo credit: NPS media release)

Still recovering from June’s historic flooding, Yellowstone National Park has set “incredibly aggressive time frames” for reopening, with the last piece of the puzzle now pushed back two weeks.

For well over a century, heading from Gardiner, Montana to Yellowstone National Park has meant traveling Old Gardiner Road. Established in the 1880s as a stagecoach route, this single-lane dirt road would be expanded multiple times throughout the 20th century; eventually becoming the 4-mile, two-lane paved route we know today.

But on Monday, June 13, 2022, a catastrophic flood event would strike the area – wiping half of Old Gardiner Road from existence. The park has spent the months since feverishly repairing infrastructure so that the park (and gateway communities like Gardiner) can return to business as usual. And Old Gardiner is the last remaining piece of the puzzle.

Originally, Yellowstone National Park and the Federal Highway Administration planned to have Old Gardiner re-opened for use by mid-October. But the park’s latest media release cites this date moving back a full two weeks.

Together, both organizations have “determined that the Old Gardiner Road (a limited-access road between Gardiner, Montana and Mammoth Hot Springs) will open to regular traffic no later than Nov. 1, 2022.”

After the flood destroyed it, officials would mull over whether to rebuild the same road in what could be the path of future flooding. Deliberation determined, however, that Old Gardiner Road was “the best and only option to quickly reconnect Mammoth Hot Springs to Gardiner, Montana.”

Superintendent Cam Sholly: ‘It’s essential that we do not cut corners’

“We have set incredibly aggressive time frames for these repairs and our contractors have worked at lightning speed to get this road safely reopened,” offers Superintendent Cam Sholly. “It’s essential that we do not cut corners and we ensure the road meets required safety standards prior to opening. It’s also essential that we finish the job correctly, so we avoid any problems going into next year.”

Left: Old Gardiner Road improvement progress on Oct. 4, 2022. Right: Northeast Entrance Road improvement progress on Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo credit: NPS media release)

To improve the new version of Old Gardiner Road, “the two-lane project will be extended up to two weeks to ensure over 5,000 feet of guardrail are properly installed for traffic safety,” the park cites. “Additionally, Yellowstone asked the Federal Highway Administration to build a new ¼-mile approach road into Mammoth Hot Springs after the project was underway to avoid a 12-15% steep grade on the original road.”

In addition, the park asked the FHA to expand road widths in certain sections of the road to prevent restrictions. These improvements will require additional engineering and design work in order to support the 2-3,000 vehicles per day that enter Yellowstone National Park from Gardiner, Montana – leading to the two-week extension of Yellowstone’s previous deadline/announcements.

Despite Delays, Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance Road is ‘Still to Open as Planned on Oct. 15’

Simultaneously, the new approach road coming into Mammoth Hot Springs is currently under construction. The park cites that paving begins this week, before nearly 1 mile of guardrail’s installation between Oct. 10 and Oct. 20.

“If the Old Gardiner Road is complete prior to Nov. 1, the park will open it to public travel sooner,” their report adds.

Despite this delay, the Northeast Entrance Road (Tower Junction to the Northeast Entrance in Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana) is still to open as planned on Oct. 15 to regular traffic.

Yellowstone is also coordinating with Montana and Wyoming to plow the 7-mile section of road between Cooke City and the Pilot Creek Trailhead (or the plug) if necessary, until Old Gardiner Road’s new form is complete. This, the park promises, will ensure continued access to the communities of Cooke City/Silver Gate, Montana.

For more from Superintendent Cam Sholly on the historic Yellowstone flood, see our National Parks Journal: Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly Goes In-Depth on Park’s Historic Flooding.