Earlier this year, Yellowstone National Park was at the epicenter of a historical flooding that resulted in the elimination of homes, bridges, and the possibility of reentry into the park. Restoring damaged infrastructure comes at a monumental cost, not purely structurally but reputationally and economically as well.
According to the 2020 Annual Report published by the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau, the city was enjoying the completion of Phase 1 of a $24 million infrastructure project, providing visitors with walkways, safer traffic routes, a Gardiner Welcome Center with 24-hour public restrooms, and the Roosevelt Stage in Arch Park. With 36,000 visitors passing through the Visitor Information Center in 2020, Gardiner saw a 9.3 percent increase from the summer of 2019. By 2021, this nearly tripled as the visitor center received a staggering nearly 91,000 guests. It’s easy to say that Gardiner, which is seated at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, is a major tourist destination and almost fully dependent on the promise of incoming tourism with 60 percent of jobs pertaining to tourism.
From the night of June 12, 2022 and into the next morning, a substantial rainfall deluged parts of Montana, resulting in the accelerated melting of snow. Some areas were met with more than 4 inches of rain, and runoff containing the combination of rain and snow melt (equivalent to 4-9 inches of rain) concentrated in the rivers flowing into the park. The ferocity of this streamflow eroded and destabilized the river bank, causing the demolition of roads and even an entire housing unit for park staff. The Yellowstone River crested at 13.88 feet, breaking the previous record of 11.5 feet set on June 14, 1918.
Damage from the massive flood was substantial. Officials estimate that repairs could amount to approximately $1 billion and take 5 years to complete. In addition to whole roads washing away, at least 270 people applied for aid totaling $7 million. The impact was so great, that notable figures stepped in to offer assistance. Singer John Mayer, a resident of Livingston, Montana, even organized a concert to raise money to support rebuilding efforts.
Infrastructure is vital to how we are able to behold and interact with the landscape around us. Yellowstone, which spans 2.2 million acres in northwest Wyoming, southwest Montana, and eastern Idaho, was functionally shut down because key roads were washed out. Roads and bridges that one day provide the public with accessibility, can suddenly succumb to deficiency or environmental factors and lock out those who it once served. For Yellowstone, these roads serve park rangers and tourists alike. But tourism aside, the loss of roads has meant delivery of goods was halted, groups of people were isolated, and the debris from multiple buildings and bridges now scattered across many miles. Repair and cleanup will be a multiyear project so that others might soon enjoy the park safely once more.
In 2022, Yellowstone anticipated celebrating its 150th birthday with momentum from incredibly high visitor numbers and plans to improve several roads and bridges. Instead of celebrating a 150 year anniversary, Yellowstone has been met with natural disaster, recovery, and an urgency to rebuild its infrastructure while protecting its wildlife and economic resilience.
Written by Andrew Jefferis, Media Coordinator
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.