Historic flooding hits Yellowstone
Officials in the Greater Yellowstone region gave an update on the damages from widespread flooding Tuesday evening. Two of the five entrances to the national park, Gardiner and Cook City, are unlikely to reopen this summer after heavy rains washed out roads and bridges in the area. As of Friday, all five park entrances were still temporarily closed but officials said limited reopening was “highly possible” for the West, South and East entrances as early as next week.
Bill Berg is commissioner for Park County, Montana. He said many of the park’s gateway communities will be heavily impacted by a lack of tourists in the wake of the floods.
“Gardiner’s a pretty rough and tumble place. It was established in 1880,” Berg said. “The year before, Yellowstone became a park, and he [the founder] headed down the hill and laid out a townsite right on the boundary. So, it’s a company town. It’s a Yellowstone town. And it lives and dies by tourism, and this is going to be a pretty big hit.”
Berg said he’s focused on maintaining critical supply lines and assessing damages to local communities, many of which were stranded by flooding.
On Friday, Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly said the park has made “tremendous progress” in a short amount of time but that it still has a long way to go toward full recovery.
“All emergency and life safety objectives within the park have been accomplished or stabilized within the first 96 hours of the flood event, without major injury or death. We have an aggressive plan for recovery in the north and resumption of operations in the south,” Sholly said. “This first 96 hours has been critical to be able to focus on our life safety objectives and stabilizing emergency conditions while preparing plans for recovery.”
In Jackson, about 40 groups who evacuated Yellowstone stayed in the Teton County Fairgrounds overnight Monday, but campsites are still reportedly available for those changing their vacation plans and driving south. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon also announced Wednesday that he would issue an emergency declaration in order to allow the state to seek federal funding for necessary road repairs.
Former Jackson resident fined for making false report during McLaughlin search
A former Jackson resident has been banned from Grand Teton National Park for five years as punishment for fabricating a story during last year’s search efforts for missing person Cian McLaughlin. Heather Mycoskie, 40, also agreed to pay $17,600 in restitution to the Department of Treasury.
A press release from the park said Mycoskie knowingly provided false information to officials in June 2021, apparently to keep the search for McLaughlin going when she thought it was starting to fade out. But her account placed the 27-year-old Irishman far away from where he had last been seen. Public Affairs Specialist for Grand Teton National Park C.J. Adams said the false report resulted in 532 wasted hours of staff time.
“This kind of report puts not only searchers at risk—risk for injury—it puts them out in the wrong places and diverts valuable resources where they could be looking in higher probable areas,” Adams said. “It’s really unfortunate, and it just takes away from our search efforts.”
Adams said the park is renewing its efforts this summer to find McLaughlin, who has now been missing for more than a year. Specifically, officials are asking locals and tourists to keep an eye out for a red iPhone 12, red Apple watch, silver chain and gold-rimmed sunglasses, especially on the trail system headed towards Garnet Canyon and Delta Lake.
Wyoming State Parks help promote suicide prevention hotline
Wyoming launched a new public messaging campaign late last month to help promote a suicide prevention hotline. But instead of targeting the usual suspects of schools or hospitals, the campaign’s main focus is parks.
“It’s one thing to get the funding to get a line put together. It does nothing if nobody knows the number,” said Darin Westby, director of Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources.
Westby said he was thrilled when the Governor’s Office asked his department to help get the message out statewide about the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Calls to the number are currently answered by two Wyoming call centers from 4 a.m. to midnight, but the state legislature allocated funding earlier this year that will expand that local coverage 24/7. The national lifeline number will also transition to a simpler 988 starting in mid-July.
Beyond postering for the new “You Matter” campaign, Westby said Wyoming State Parks also have another important role to play in supporting residents’ mental health.
“It’s cathartic to go outdoors, whether it’s just outside of your office or if it’s out up into a park, we understand that it’s hugely beneficial–to the point that my team is working with, ‘How do we get doctors to start prescribing a prescription that says, ‘Go outdoors,’” Westby said. “You bring that prescription to me and I’ll let you go out to a state park for free for that day, and just go explore and enjoy.”
That’s an idea that’s already been piloted in Canada, where some doctors have the ability to prescribe free visits to national parks.
Gov. Gordon creates Gas and Diesel Price Working Group
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced the creation of a Gas and Diesel Price Working Group last week to try and combat rising fuel costs. The governor said he’s considering “any and all possible ways,” including tax relief measures, to offset the current pain Wyomingites are feeling at the pump.
“Fuel prices have hit yet another high this past week, driving inflation affecting our seniors, veterans and in fact, all Wyoming citizens. And all we hear out of Washington, D.C., is ‘It’s someone else’s fault,’” Gordon said. “There’s no end in sight here in Wyoming. We need to look for any possible way we can provide some relief to our citizens.”
The governor also called on the Biden administration to allow for more fossil fuel production in the long term to avoid future fuel price hikes, including more uranium mining and expanded oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Several other Wyoming politicians including Sen. John Barrasso have made similar calls in recent weeks. However, conservation advocates and industry watchdog groups counter that an all-time-high of U.S. oil production is predicted for 2023. Oil and gas producers are also already sitting on a massive stockpile of unused leases while gas prices continue to surge.
Moose-Wilson Road construction delayed
Construction on the Moose-Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park has been delayed due to supply chain issues, staffing shortages and an “overwhelmed construction industry locally,” according to a park press release put out Wednesday. The change means that the southern portion of the road, which had been closed except on weekends, opened up again as of Thursday and will stay open until 7 a.m. July 11, when construction is expected to resume.
Parking along the southern portion of the road, including at trailheads, is not allowed, and the Granite Canyon Trailhead will also remain closed. Access to the Rockefeller Preserve and Death Canyon Trailhead is still available from the north.