CODY — Yellowstone National Park is starting to put plans in place to reopen, even before the floodwaters recede.
The entire park will remain closed through the weekend, with the less damaged South Loop now expected to open Monday at the earliest, Superintendent Cam Sholly said Wednesday during a call with residents and tourists in Cody. The park closed all entrances earlier this week as floodwaters washed away roads, destroyed bridges and turned gateway communities into temporary islands.
Around 15,000 visitors left the park amid the disaster, which could take months or even years to fully recover.
Authorities will likely implement a reservation system that limits the number of visitors entering to prevent overcrowding and damage to infrastructure in the southern loop. Details of the plan – including the number of vehicles that will be allowed through each of the three surviving entrances – are yet to be determined.
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Sholly hopes Yellowstone’s gateway communities can help park staff figure out how to attract enough tourists to support local businesses, but without attracting more people than half the park can accommodate.
“We’re not necessarily trying to find perfection here,” he said. “My goal is to balance access to Yellowstone as best as possible.”
If the park opens at the beginning of next week, it will be without reservation. This system could take weeks to set up. During this interval, the availability of overnight accommodations inside the park will likely be reduced.
Much remains to be understood.
“We’re going to work together,” he said on the call.
Cody’s tourism workers – hotel owners, tour guides, outfitters – have asked for details. How long would the park require reservations? Could the bus tours scheduled for next week come in? Did the road that connects the north and south loops survive the flood?
Sholly answered what he could. Reservations may last until next season, depending on the difficulty of repairs in the North Loop. Buses and other large vehicles will likely be allowed on park roads once they reopen to the public. And the road that separates the two loops should also be accessible at this time.
His focus on keeping communications open with the communities most affected by the shutdown seemed to be well received by those on the other end of the line.
“You have a lot to do,” said one resident, “but we’re all here to support you.”
Less than three days after the park closed, Sholly hasn’t been able to provide much certainty; authorities are still waiting for the floods to recede so they can assess the extent of the damage. And park officials are preparing for the possibility of additional flooding over the weekend.
But being included in the decision-making process and informed of what might come next has been a relief for those whose livelihoods are at stake.
“Thank you so much for that,” said one business owner. “You wouldn’t believe the sleepless nights we’ve had.”
Photos: Aerial views of flooding on the Yellowstone River on Monday