Clean up efforts continue in Northwest Wyoming and Montana after historic flooding in Yellowstone

June 27, 2022

When times are tough, people come together and help each other.

That's the case in Cooke City, Mont., a community cut off from Gardiner, Mont., Mammoth, Wyo., and Livingston, Mont., by historic flooding in the north half of Yellowstone National Park.

Beginning June 12, unprecedented amounts of rainfall caused substantial flooding, rock slides and mud slides within the north half of Yellowstone National Park and southern Montana (including Gardiner, Livingston and Red Lodge). HIstoric water levels, aided by wet, heavy late May snow, caused severe damage to roads, water and wastewater systems, power lines, roadways and bridges, and other critical infrastructure.

The historic flooding sent floodwaters down Main Street in Red Lodge, washed out roadways between Mammoth Hot Springs inside Yellowstone and Gardiner, the North Entrance into Yellowstone. Flood waters led to saturated soils in Wyoming, too. The rising rivers nearly washed out a bridge on US212, threatened the Clarks Fork River bridge on WY296 near Crandall, and threatened a pair of highway bridges on WY120 near Edelweiss and Clark north of Cody.

WYDOT maintenance workers rallied to move logs, downed trees and other debris from the upstream side of the bridges on WY296 and WY120; water levels began dropping on June 13-14. Workers also moved core-drilling rigs to the bridges in case they were forced to drill holes in the three bridges to keep them from floating downstream. Thankfully, flood waters receded through the week.

Later the same week (June 17), WYDOT borrowed an excavator from Park County (Wyo.) maintenance and placed large rock around an abutment on a US212 bridge east of Cooke City, Mont. The rock rip-rap was placed to help the bridge withstand another big water event.

WYDOT pitched in, helping Yellowstone assess damage inside the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone. A WYDOT drone flew the area, collected photographs and video showing 3 large washouts in the Yellowstone roadway. WYDOT engineers attended a town meeting in Cooke City the weekend of June 17-19. WYDOT then visited business people on Monday, June 20, and worked with the National Park Service, Park County, Mont., and local leaders to schedule a public information sharing meeting on June 23. The June 23 meet was attended by more than 120 citizens and local, county, state and federal government officials.

Scenic Beartooth Highway (US212) has only opened for a few days in 2022, but Montana Department of Transportation has a contractor on board and is aiming to reopen the highway for visitors this summer.

The outcome? From Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon to his Montana counterpart, Greg Gianforte, from to Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Cam Sholly to WYDOT Director Luke Reiner, from Park County (Wyo.) to Park County (Mont.), from WYDOT to the U.S. Forest Service, Central Federal Lands (Federal Highway Administration) to local Cooke City citizens, an increased level of communication, including understanding, has helped everyone to come together to maintain access to Cooke City, Mont., during a difficult time.

Good news was shared, too, at the Cooke City public information meeting. More than $60 million in emergency funding, courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration, is available for emergency repairs, and to begin relinking communities this summer who have been devastated by the raging flood waters of June.

Now the time has come for patience -- not an easy thing for the communities, livelihoods and people, including tourists, hanging in the balance -- as the repairs and rebuilding begins far deep in Wyoming's northwest corner. Fingers crossed. This is one time when construction and repaired roadways will be a blessing.