With the recent re-opening of Yellowstone National Park’s west loop, tourists seemed ecstatic to gain access to approximately 93% of the park’s original loop.
After devastating levels of rainfall and snow-melt forced temporary closure of the park a few weeks ago and the National Park Service (NPS) released photos of the immense damage, it was firmly believed that the discussion of re-opening would not occur anytime soon.
After the surprising announcement of re-opening by the NPS last week, excitement was re-fueled, but the expectations and realities did not align for local businesses around the outskirts of the park.
These businesses—such as lodgings, restaurants, and touring services—rely almost entirely on tourism ignited by the park, and with continued limitations on the north entrance as well as other key points of reconstruction such as the Beartooth Highway, many businesses are still seeing severe financial reductions in the peak of tourism season.
This is in large part due to certain locations being outside of the working loop and continued damage recovery.
Emil McCain and Mike Lagodny, owners of two separate guided tour businesses in the park, have concerns about the initial limits on guide vehicles in Yellowstone. McCain stated that the 30-35 initial limit on vehicles in the park is a “fraction of what our local guiding companies could potentially be doing.”
He also added that he is only 1 of the 42 companies between Gardiner and Livingston.
With many tourists writing off Yellowstone as closed for the season, numbers aren’t revamping as quickly as business owners had hoped, and the question has now become viability of businesses. McCain and Lagodny say they are getting resourceful and working with others to try and provide quick solutions, but without change this season Lagodny states:
“… I might not be here next year.”
Local restaurant-owner of Grizzly Grille in Gardiner, Jeremy Baker, stated in his interview that after a 10-day closure he chose to re-open in the final days of June. Compared to revenue from June of 2021, Baker estimates a loss of about $30,000 so far. In comparison, many business owners in Cooke City also report as little as one-eighth of their typical daily sales with little-to-no signs of improvement.
Troy Wilson, owner of the Cooke City General Store concurs with the previous reports. Wilson reported that he is currently doing about $1,000 a day in sales that would typically be five times that mark in previous years. He is optimistic that the opening of roads like Old Gardiner and Beartooth will increase the traffic through the area, but redeeming the current summer season’s numbers may still be impossible.
“It’s pretty bleak, it’s definitely a ghost town here.”
Owners and managers of the popular West Yellowstone Lodgings the 1872 Inn and the Madison Hotel say they are also seeing these downward trends. Even with three of the five gates open to Yellowstone, families have cancelled summer trips in fear of the park’s previously-reported conditions.
Morgan Mauer, manager of the 1872 Inn, says that many of the tourists they’ve connected with believe that the state of Montana is still largely underwater, and he credits the misinformation nationwide for some of the downward business trajectory.
Mauer went on to say”
“Without hard, firm dates on a calendar to plan family vacations, people won’t come back to the park with only 50% opportunity.”
In a recent conference call with West Yellowstone, Park Superintendent Cam Sholly, compared slow starting numbers to the one’s business owners saw after rebounding from COVID-19 closures. He expressed his confidence in a continual rise in tourism back to the park, alongside a continual rise in financial numbers for local businesses.
So far, the progress made in repairing and re-opening Yellowstone National Park has been nothing short of miraculous considering the staff’s limited-to-none experience in flooding of this parameter.
The park is currently assessing how to rebuild the roadway connecting Gardiner to the park, designing a project to reconnect Gardiner with Mammoth, and repairing and widening the Old Gardiner Road that runs near Mammoth Hot Springs.