Gardiner Ramps Up For Busy Tourism Season

May 17, 2019

Tourism is the economic lifeblood for many gateway communities around Yellowstone National Park. In Gardiner, Montana, a second-generation fly shop is gearing up for its busiest season.

Richard Parks is the owner of Parks’ Fly Shop in Gardiner. He walks over to a display table of dry flies, many of which he has made himself. Each one is an intricate, hand-made masterpiece.

“There are literally thousands of fly patterns because there are thousands of bugs, and it varies seasonally depending on what you need at a given place and a given time," says Parks. "The other side of the table has got flies intended to represent small fish." 

"It’s pretty impressive just how much variation there is. Like these, they’re quite iridescent and sparkly, and then you’ve got these other ones with the big feathers," says Rachel Cramer. 

"Well, you have to understand this stuff intended to be in the water, it doesn’t look like that in the water," Parks says.

Parks holds the hook between his thumb and index finger and puts the rest of the fly in his mouth. He wets it down and pulls it back out.

“In the water, it slicks down and looks a lot more like a little fish."

Parks says they’re restocking flies and scheduling guided fly fishing trips in and around Yellowstone National Park to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend. He says they’re busiest the end of May to mid-September, when the shop gets between 40 to 50 customers per day.

Gardiner borders Yellowstone’s north entrance, which is the only one that’s open year-round and one of the busiest. More than 4 million people visited the park for each of the past four years.

“I think 4 million is a plateau we have permanently crossed,” Parks says.

Gardiner’s businesses brought in almost $18 million during the June-to-September season in 2016, the year the National Park Service celebrated its 100th anniversary and released a big marketing campaign.

Neala Siegle is the executive director of Gardiner Chamber of Commerce. For a town with fewer than 1,000 residents, she says there are some challenges that come with the influx of tourists.

“That does involve slightly more congested streets. You will see longer lines at the [Yellowstone Roosevelt] Gate. It takes a little longer to get through the market, a little longer to get gas.”

Lines to get gas might be even longer this summer with one of the two gas stations closed and a new one under construction.

Siegle says housing is also a challenge.

“We’ve seen a lot of residencies being converted into vacation rentals to support the tourist economy so Gardiner is taking a very close look at and exploring all the options," says Siegle.

The average home price is over $300,000 while the median household income in Park County is less than $45,000 a year.

Back in Parks’ Fly Shop, Richard Parks says, “As a consequence, we’re running out of places for our seasonal staff to stay, and we’re even running people out of town who live here on a year-round basis because if they didn’t own the property, they can’t afford the rent.”

He says it’s a big concern for a lot of people in Gardiner. But right now, Parks’ main priorities are scheduling fly fishing guides and restocking his flies before Memorial Day Weekend.