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Yellowstone National Park partially reopens after floods

A traffic jam in West Yellowstone, Mont. as cars line up to enter Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday.
Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio
A traffic jam in West Yellowstone, Mont. as cars line up to enter Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday.

Updated June 22, 2022 at 7:05 PM ET

More than a week after catastrophic floods closed Yellowstone National Park, it partially reopened on Wednesday.

Despite some major roads still being washed out, three of the massive park's five entrances opened this morning, to lines hundreds of cars long.

The traffic was so bad in the adjacent town of West Yellowstone, Mont., that the park let people in a little before the official morning opening time.

But the number of people being allowed in is being limited for now, with hopes that more park roads will open in early July.

For now, cars with license plates that end in even numbers can enter on even numbered days, and odd numbered plates on odd numbered days. If that doesn't work out, the park said it will try a reservation system.

Park Superintendent Cam Sholly has said half the park can't handle all of the visitors.

People in line at West Yellowstone were excited and grateful to go in the park, but also disappointed that they were going to be spending a lot less time in the park than they had planned.

Yellowstone National Park's west entrance on Wednesday.
/ Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio
Olivia Weitz/Yellowstone Public Radio
Yellowstone National Park's west entrance on Wednesday.

"We started out with a tour group and we were supposed to come to Yellowstone and stay in Yellowstone — it was closed," said New Jersey resident Pat Sparacio.

"But, we left the group," she said. "They went to Salt Lake City. We rented a car with an even number and we got here."

Yellowstone typically sees close to a million visitors a month in the summer. For now, only about two-thirds of the park is open. In the figure-eight of the park's 400-mile road system, only the southern loop is drivable. The northern loop on top could open as soon as early July, park officials said. That would open up about 80% of the whole park.

But even after the northern road loop is open to cars again, Yellowstone's two northernmost entrances are expected to remain closed all summer, or open to only very limited traffic.

That means the towns adjacent to them, Gardiner and Cooke City, Mont., have become virtual dead ends, when, in a normal summer, they're gateways serving hundreds of thousands of summer travelers.

Economic losses will affect several Montana towns on northern routes into the park, many of which are dealing with extensive flood damage of their own. Some of the state's biggest cities, like Billings and Bozeman, also see a significant number of Yellowstone visitors fly into their airports.

The northern towns' losses are potentially gains for gateway towns adjacent to the three entrances that reopened.

Rachel Spence, a manager at Freeheel and Wheel bike shop in West Yellowstone, said there appear to be local benefits to the limited entry by license plate system. In the first fifteen minutes they were open on Wednesday, two families rented bikes who had odd-numbered license plates and couldn't enter the park.

"We're hopeful that more people will use that opportunity to explore things in town like the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, the museum, our local trails that are outside," Spence said. "We're hopeful that this will maybe allow people to see that there's more to do in West Yellowstone than the park itself."

Copyright 2022 Yellowstone Public Radio. To see more, visit Yellowstone Public Radio.

Olivia Weitz