Yellowstone Park feels the love after historic flooding
'To see people come back here and enjoy it and love it, it’s even more special,' says Yellowstone park ranger
Tourists are once again flocking to famed Yellowstone National Park after flooding shut the iconic location down earlier this summer.
Crowds are returning to hike more than 1,600 kilometres worth of trails, catch a glimpse of the bison, elk and bears, and show their love for a location synonymous with outdoor adventure.
Ranger Rich Jehle points to a handwritten note on a bulletin board in the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center in Yellowstone National Park in northwest Wyoming. It's from a junior ranger who heard about the major flooding in the area in June and wanted to help.
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It was June 12 when unprecedented amounts of rainfall caused substantial flooding, rockslides, and mudslides within Yellowstone National Park.
"It was a flood event that nobody has ever seen in our lifetime certainly. It's been called a 500 year event," said Jehle, the West District Interpretive Ranger who's been working for the park service for 35 years.
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Historic water levels caused severe damage to roads, water and wastewater systems, power lines and other critical park infrastructure.
"I'd never seen anything like this. Where it rained that hard for that long without letting up." A reminder, he said, that ultimately mother nature is really in charge.
The torrential downpour forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 tourists, employees and residents near the park. Remarkably, no one was reported injured or killed.
But Jehle said the "outpouring of love and support" from across North America and around the world in the aftermath has been a powerful thing.
Emails, social media posts and $50 million in U.S. federal government funding to kick-start recovery efforts all send a clear message "that national parks and places like Yellowstone are worth preserving, and saving, and passing on."
"As we've managed to reopen the park and to see people come back here and enjoy it and love it, it's even more special," said Jehle.
The world's first national park
This was supposed to be Yellowstone's big year but for a different reason, the 150th anniversary celebrations of the world's first national park.
Established by a protection act signed on March 1, 1872, this 8,991 square kilometre space in the northwest corner of Wyoming, and extending into Montana and Idaho, is home to an abundance of wildlife and more than 10,000 hydrothermal features, 500 of which are geysers — or about half of all thought to exist on the planet.
Annual visitation to the park hovers around 4 million but people have spent time in the Yellowstone region for more than 11,000 years. There are currently 27 tribes or nations that have historic connections to the lands and resources including the Assiniboine, Crow and Sioux.
The park's name is derived from the Minnetaree, who called it Mi-tse-a-da-zi, or yellow rock river, most likely due to the yellowish formations of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Between this rich history and natural attractions, Elizabeth Halpenny isn't surprised people "want to help the park recover somehow."
The University of Alberta professor studies tourism, marketing, environmental psychology and protected-areas management.
"We have this long relationship with our parks. When they experience extreme damage, maybe it's a wildfire, maybe it's a flood, people do have a strong outpouring of emotion," Halpenny said.
In reviewing the flooding and subsequent recovery efforts there are lessons other parks can takeaway.
"They did a tremendous job of getting people out of the right places at the right times, responding very quickly to a highly unanticipated weather event," said Halpenny.