When I was a kid growing up a short distance from the Yellowstone River, my mom repeatedly warned of the river’s power and might over humans. She instilled a healthy respect for a force of nature that over the years has taken many lives and sometimes wreaked havoc by overflowing its banks. While my friends were floating the river in inner tubes, jumping off Carter’s Fishing Bridge, and rafting its rapids, I was only an observer, keeping my distance.
The Yellowstone is the only undammed river in the lower 48 states. It flows for 692 miles through Yellowstone National Park and Livingston, Montana, on its way to join the Missouri River in North Dakota. It includes sections with crashing waterfalls — including three spectacular falls in the park — and, surprisingly, some areas of calm, lazy flow.
The fury that the river displayed on June 13 has been called a once in 500-years event according to a U.S. Geologic Survey. Fed by record rainfall and melting snow, the river went wild and tore through Yellowstone Park, gobbling up houses, bridges and roads. Overflowing the levee and into low-lying areas in Livingston, houses were engulfed in muddy waters.
My first response to the news was to contact my classmates who still live in our hometown — many who had reached out to me last year when fire was licking at our doorstep. As the flooding devastation unfolded, they, too, were just learning what Park County would wake up to the next day. The news of the unprecedented damage in Yellowstone Park, Gardiner and down river attracted national news reporters.
As we in the Methow Valley experienced last year with the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek fires, an economy that depends upon tourism can be crushed by natural disasters that devastate the beauty that attracts visitors. It will be a long while before repairs and rebuilding will be complete, but already the National Park Service plans to reopen the South Loop of Yellowstone Park in order to accommodate visitors on a limited basis based on the last number of your license plate (odd numbers can enter on odd days and even numbers on even days — pretty clever).
Follow-up regarding Methow Valley Climbers (MVC): I learned from Mark Allen, president of MVC, that folks from all over the state come here to climb and some routes have drawn attention of climbers on both coasts. He says, “This is exciting but creates impact issues we had to learn to mitigate. We now have fundraisers to support this mitigation and to make improvements on the venues to make them more comfortable, safe, and resistant to use.”
Since all the climbing areas are on U.S. Forest Service land, the group works symbiotically with climbing rangers and Mark describes their relationship as “sterling at the moment.”
With the summer solstice a day behind us, summer has officially begun (and the hours of sunlight begin their slow retreat till winter solstice in December). The warmer, sunnier days are drawing folks outdoors for all the summer activities the valley has to offer.