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Gardiner Voices: Guiding company finds a silver lining in fewer Yellowstone tourists

Courtesy Rhiana Peck
Walking Shadow Ecology Tours of Yellowstone
Elk sparring in the Canyon Village area of Yellowstone National Park, photo submitted by Rhiana Peck, Naturalist Guide for Walking Shadow Ecology Tours of Yellowstone

It’s been two months since the Yellowstone River flooded communities across Montana and an especially hard hit was the town of Gardiner, right at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone Public Radio is checking in to see how the people and iconic places in the gateway town are adapting.

With visitation in Yellowstone down since the floods, one guiding company in Gardiner says it's easier for clients to see more of the park.

Ashea Mills owns Walking Shadow Ecology Tours of Yellowstone, which she runs out of her cabin “office” in downtown Gardiner.

“I have not been able to even offer Old Faithful tours out of Gardiner the past few years because we've had just intense amounts of visitation, and you are literally in grid lock," she said. "It took me over 3 hours to get to Old Faithful in mid-May."

Since the floods in June visitation to the park is down about 40%, which Mills says cuts down the time it takes to go from Gardiner to Old Faithful. Because of that — and to get more people into the park — they started doing a Grand Loop public tour.

“I would be able to do an entire Grand Loop in the course of about 8 hours and get to see some wildlife on the way, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley, which is an extraordinary place for wildlife, get down to Old Faithful, get to see an eruption down there,” she said.

Mills is grateful that she has been able to run tours this summer and is hopeful her fall calendar fills up.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.