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Gardiner no stranger to difficult times

Residents optimistic town will survive most recent disaster
Posted at 8:05 AM, Jun 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-21 10:05:40-04

GARDINER - One week removed from epic flooding in Yellowstone National Park, the gateway community of Gardiner is trying to envision life without its lifeline.

The five-mile road connecting Gardiner to Yellowstone National Park's headquarters at Mammoth is washed out in several places, and no one knows when the route will reopen.

The flooding has dealt Gardiner residents and local businesses yet another setback.

"Between COVID, the fires we had two years ago, more COVID, and now the flood, I'm waiting for the volcano to blow or an earthquake to happen," said Chris Hoff, a wildlife photographer and owner of the Yellowstone Wild Gallery in Gardiner. "We just keep getting knocked down and getting back up. Unfortunately, I think it's going to be quite a long time before we get vistors to Gardiner again. I just don't see any quick fixes up there."

With the park's north entrance blocked as a result of the flooding, Yellowstone's iconic Roosevelt Arch, the grand entryway to America's first National Park, has no one to welcome.

Atop the arch, a phrase from the 1872 legislation that established Yellowstone. It reads - "For the benefit and enjoyment of the people". At least for the time being, the people are missing.

"Right now my gallery would usually be full of people, the parking lot would be full," Hoff said. "This is peak selling season and usually the peak time of day for me, so quite a stark difference."

Shawn Darr and her husband Jim own the Little Trail Creek Cabins on the edge of Gardiner. This week they are trying to figure out how to deal with a 90 percent drop in business.

"Just that one road has cut us off from our lifeline," said Darr. "We are looking at probable loss of most revenue for the entire year, for everyone in town."

RELATED: Photos: Aerial images of Yellowstone flood

In spite of the flooding, Darr remains grateful that no one was hurt in the disaster.

"It was rough watching the devastation as it unfolded. But coming from a nursing background to learn that everyone's OK, there was no loss of life, no injuries, it is just a miracle," said Darr.

At the Gardiner Market, the town's only grocery store, owner Scott Demaree is offering free water to anyone who needs it. The town remains under a boil order until the Gardiner water system is deemed safe.

"I'm really concerned about the smaller businesses," said Demaree. "Most of the bigger businesses will be able to weather it OK, but there are a lot of small, independent businesses that keep this town running in the summer that I'm really concerned about."

As Demaree helped customers take home cases of water, he wondered aloud about the town's uncertain future.

"In all the years I've lived here, I always wondered what summer would look like with Yellowstone out of the picture," Demaree said. "Who would come, what it would look like. Guess we're going to find out."

North of Gardiner, near Emigrant, the historic Carbella Bridge was ripped away from its moorings by the rushing water of the Yellowstone River. The steel bridge was built in 1918 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Structures. It had stood the test of time for more than 100 years, until the Yellowstone reminded us who's in charge.

"You could just see the water was trying to come over the decks, and you could hear the sound, this twisting metal sound," said Matson Rogers, owner of the Angler's West Fly Shop in Emigrant.

Rogers and one of his employees drove down to the river early last Monday morning to check out the situation firsthand.

"You could hear this twisting metal sound," recounted Rogers. " I turned around and it tore off its moorings, swung, spun, double-endoed kind of, and went down. The amount of debris that was coming down the river Monday was unprecedented."

For miles, the banks of the Yellowstone River are now littered with logs, debris, and in some cases entire trees. At first glance, one particular stretch in the Paradise Valley resembles a lumber yard. As for the river's blue-ribbon fishery, Rogers is confident it will survive.

"Yes, some fish were swept away, some were displaced, but we know trout are resilient," said Rogers. "White fish are resilient, the sculpins, all the fish species in the river, they are all resilient. They've evolved over millions of years. This isn't the first time the river has flooded, and the river comes back."

And the Park's iconic wildlife, how will they fare after what the Park Service now calls a one-thousand-year flood?

"It will be interesting, across the whole northern range the wildlife are going to get a break from the tourists," said Chris Hoff. "If it's two years before we get back in there, those animals might be wild again."

Just like the parks' wildlife, for the local business community in Gardiner, it is survival of the fittest.

"I think as bad as it was, COVID really kind of helped us prepare for this in a way," said Shawn Darr. "We had to think about things differently and how to continue to operate without guests coming as they normally do. But yeah, we'll make it."

A sentiment echoed by Hoff.

"This is a great little town, I love it," said Hoff. "It's going to be a tough couple of years, but it will bounce back. It may not be the same, but it will bounce back."

RELATED: National Park Service announces $50 million in emergency funding; expedited plans to reopen 80 percent of Yellowstone