GARDINER - The Yellowstone floods knocked out a good part of the park’s summer tourist season. Now, thanks to washed-out roads, school children are struggling to cope.
Because workers are feverishly trying to finish a new road connecting Gardiner and Mammoth, travel on the road while it is under construction is very limited. That means the more than 50 students who live in Mammoth but go to school in Gardiner spend 11 hours away from home each school day.
“I first put my 7-year-old on the bus, then I get in the car with my three-year-old and drive down,” said Nico Wood Kos, the mother of a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old who make the trip each day. She has to drive the younger child because preschool students are not allowed to ride the bus.
The drive is no easy task. The road is rough and only a few ranger-supervised trips a day are allowed. This means kids catch a bus or ride to school at 7 a.m. and do not return until 6 p.m. on the four school days a week.
“Well, I think it’s going as best as it can be going," School Superintendent Mike Baer said. "We’ve got a lot of tired kids. You know they’re spending a lot of hours here.”
“Evenings are tough,” said Wood Kos. “There’s just not enough time in the evening for us to really wind down and see each other and eat and bathe and get ready for the following day.”
Some students said they are feeling the strain as well.
“It’s kind of annoying sometimes because we have to wake up a little bit earlier,” one student said.
“It’s a different road, it’s just kind of way more bumpy,” another said.
Preschool teacher Carrie Clay volunteers to supervise the Mammoth kids in after-school activities until the bus is ready to take them home.
“My job and my role is to make sure that the community need is met," she said. "Our parents play a vital role, a huge role in keeping this town up and running and alive. So, if they don’t have child care, it really makes their job really, really hard and so that kind of means the town kind of falls too.”
Baer said Park managers are helping in many ways to ease the burden on parents and the school. He gave an example of a recent sports matchup.
“Last week we had our football game and our volleyball game both in West Yellowstone. So to drive around in the fall, it’s a three-hour drive. In the park, it’s an hour and a half. And traditionally, the park has always worked us and allowed us to go through. But this year, because of the road, we weren’t sure if that was going to happen. And, they worked with us and they made that happen, we were allowed to do that which cut off tons of travel time. They let the families go through, so the parents were able to follow the bus and go see the kids. Yeah, they’ve been really pretty good to work with.”
In five more weeks, the temporary road is expected to be open. Both Baer and Nico are optimistic.
“It’s exciting to see the changes in the road every day, and I do feel confident that they’re going to get it done by the October fifteenth date that they set, so that is reassuring,” said Wood Kos.
Even when the road is ready for travel, there will be length and weight restrictions. The school district had to spend $86,000 dollars on a smaller bus to meet the requirements for the new road.
Some business owners in town said they are concerned that large delivery and fuel trucks and perhaps even larger snowmobile trailers will not be allowed on the new road this winter. They say they fear that could dampen a chance for them to make for lost revenue while the north entrance was closed this summer.