Mass cancellations prompted by Yellowstone flooding cause worry in Island Park

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ISLAND PARK — Business owners in Island Park are beginning to worry as many reservations at hotels, restaurants and activity centers are being cancelled over concerns about the damage to Yellowstone National Park after major flooding.

Steve “Dutch” Dutcher, the manager at the Sawtelle Mountain Resort in Island Park, tells that he has been dealing with customers who are confused over which roads are open, what businesses are operational, and even if it’s worth it to try to go on vacation this year.

“What we’ve seen from our resort is that there’s sort of a frenzy and a panic,” says Dutcher. “There’s a lot of people canceling. A lot of people have a misunderstanding of what this will actually look like in a week or two weeks, or a month from now.”

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Yellowstone National Park, which is closed due to major damage from historic rainfall, is seeing most of the damage in the area near the north entrance, coming in on U.S. Highway 89 from Montana.

“There is extensive damage in the park, but that is mostly up north,” says Dutcher. “You can still come here, and the entrance may be open soon, but you can still enjoy the same forest, wildlife and rivers. It’s just not in the park — it’s adjacent to the park. It’s still the same exact area.”

Business owners and locals are becoming increasingly worried as cancellations rise and fears of an economic drop increase.

“There’s a lot of mom-and-pop small businesses in these smaller towns. There’s not a ton of big chains, and these are people’s livelihood, so if everybody just cancels, it could really affect and hurt the businesses and the local economy,” says Dutcher. “I think this panic will be short-lived. I bet within a few weeks it will be mostly business as usual.”

Mike Wilson, owner of the Drift Lodge in Island Park and the president of the Yellowstone Teton Territory, is one of these people who could see his livelihood damaged because of the confusion between where the damage is, and where things are operational.

Map of Yellowstone flooding
Current information on what is open/closed in Yellowstone National Park. Island Park is fully open and operational. | Alex Lemoing,

“I’m also a CUA (commercial use authorization) holder in the park for fishing, and I’m completely shut down. I’ve got five guys sitting around with nothing to do,” says Wilson.

Wilson is permitted to take park visitors on guided fly fishing trips in the park. But with the park closure, reservations need to be canceled until further notice.

“I don’t want the people who are supposed to come in the next seven to 10 days to cancel, because we expect that we should be back in the park,” says Wilson. “It’s not dire here like it is on the north side. I feel very bad about the people on the north side, but at the same time, I’ve got to take care of our businesses on our side of the park.”

The park is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, causing many tourists and workers to worry that the anniversary will be missed or overshadowed due to the closures, rebuilding of roads and overall adjustment to the damage.

“I like going to the park too. You know it’s the 150th anniversary, and it would suck to have it shut down the whole time” says Island Park Mayor Mike Bodkin. “It’s kind of like getting the flu on your birthday, you know?”

Bodkin expects the lower loop of the park, with entrances on the west, east, and south sides, to be open within the next week or so. He does not expect the north entrance to be open anytime soon.

“It’s just part of life. You have to deal with the gas prices and all of the other crap going on, and there’s a lot of tension in the air because everybody is stressed out about a lot of things,” says Bodkin. “(Tourists) come here to destress, so with having the park not open, it’s like, ‘What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?’ and you just tell them, you know, ‘Calm down. You just have to rethink the plan a little bit, but we’ll be fine. You still get to destress.’ You might spend a little less on gas, but it’ll be fine.”

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