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Yellowstone's North entrance reopens ahead of schedule


Gardiner, Mont., depends on summer tourism. It is near Yellowstone National Park, but unprecedented flooding in June closed the road that connects the town to the park. Over the weekend, a newly paved road opened again, which could be a lifeline. Here's Yellowstone Public Radio's Olivia Weitz.

OLIVIA WEITZ, BYLINE: As we drive up the newly paved road just outside Gardiner, you look down on the river canyon, and it's there you see the old damaged road fading away. Look above, and the snow-capped hills come into view. We stopped by the side of this new road with Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly. He says, before they paved it, this was a 10-foot-wide dirt path from the 1870s.

CAM SHOLLY: Are people going to want to drive it? Absolutely. I mean, I think it's a gorgeous road. You know, people need to be careful. It's safe, but it's steep and it's curvy, just like a lot of mountainous passes and roads.

WEITZ: The park was hoping to open the road in the middle of October, to catch the last couple of weekends of tourists, but Sholly says putting in guardrails and widening the path took a little longer.

SHOLLY: A little bit of a delay - but the reality is, when you're dealing with something that's so dynamic, to be able to do it in four months plus two weeks is, I think, really incredible.

WEITZ: We drove back to Gardiner, and it's there that I met Karoline Sleichter.

KAROLINE SLEICHTER: And so now I'm just removing all my utensils...


SLEICHTER: ...That hang on the wall all summer.

WEITZ: She's closing down her food truck for the season. This was her first year in business. She actually opened in May, just before the flooding. Locals and park employees kept the food truck going. During that time, Karoline could look out the back of her food truck and see the road taking shape. But with the lack of tourists, she even closed for a week in early October.

SLEICHTER: Whenever you think it can't get slower, it does (laughter). And it would be like that every day. I'd be like, oh, this ain't bad. Then, the next day, it'd be slower. The next day, it'd be slower.

WEITZ: The main tourism season is now over, but this new route will stay open for any winter visitors planning on cross-country skiing or taking in the local wildlife. That's keeping Superintendent Cam Sholly optimistic.

SHOLLY: We'll look forward to a good winter season and having 2,000 to 3,000 cars come down this road every single day next summer.

WEITZ: And for Karoline, now that her food truck is closed for the time being, she'll actually be spending a lot of the winter on this new road. Her other job is driving a coach in Yellowstone National Park, carrying luggage and mail. For NPR News, I'm Olivia Weitz in Gardiner, Mont.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Olivia Weitz