As Yellowstone National Park was announcing its evacuation due to unprecedented flooding, Teton County stakeholders were heading to a meeting that had been on the books for five months to discuss the emergency operations plan.

Rich Ochs, the emergency management coordinator for Teton County and the town of Jackson, was in the midst of updating the planning framework and agency responsibilities for how our community responds to crises and disasters. The destruction in Yellowstone became a stark backdrop for the conversation, which involved first responders and local nonprofit and public works officials.

“Most people’s mindset going into the meeting was thinking about the disaster being in Teton County, but this opened their eyes to using this plan to help neighboring communities,” Ochs said. “Like, what if we need to send public works people to Yellowstone to assess damage at some point?”

Ochs also noted a positive aspect regarding the surrounding areas.

“For the neighboring communities — Cody, Jackson, Gardiner — the emergency managers have all talked before about what happens when Yellowstone evacuates the entire park and whether our communities can handle it,” Ochs said. “I think the communities around Yellowstone are tourist economies, and we have good visitor services, plus the fact this happened earlier in the season when we have a little bit of capacity to accept that surge is positive.”

Mark Johnson, general manager of the Alpenhof Lodge in Teton Village, echoed Ochs’ take on capacity, especially with Jackson Hole Airport being closed from April 11 until the morning of June 28.

“We’ve been running at about 50% behind last year for the month of June,” Johnson said. “Last summer was a record summer for us, but this year with the airport, gas prices, etc., it’s been a little slow.”

However, Johnson said the hotel filled up Monday night with folks needing a place to stay, mostly one-nighters, with a couple of two-nighters.

Stephen Lane, the director of marketing for Teton Mountain Lodge and Hotel Terra, said the effect of the unexpected Yellowstone exodus isn’t quite clear yet.

“We got a lot of calls and interest yesterday, but it’s a little early to tell if it’s going to help or hinder us,” Lane said. “The big concern is more folks canceling their vacation here. So one thing we like to highlight here is that we can really craft an amazing itinerary of outdoor adventures beyond the parks.”

Greg Esdale, the manager of The Hostel, Teton Village’s most affordable inn, said he saw more cancellations than new bookings. According to Esdale, The Hostel saw “less than 10” new bookings Monday.

A “trigger point” for Ochs will be whether Yellowstone decides park employees need to evacuate. As of press time Tuesday, park employees remained in the park.

“Many of them don’t have the means to go somewhere else, so we would be in a sheltering situation at that point,” Ochs said. “[Yellowstone] is not planning on having to evacuate employees, but we’re having meetings with surrounding counties, the Department of Homeland Security, and working with the Wyoming Red Cross in case we need to set up shelters.”

But for now, according to Ochs, it’s a “hurry up and wait” situation.

“We activated our emergency operations center to be able to react to neighboring jurisdictions,” Ochs said. “We have activated our emergency operations plan. We’re just monitoring the situation and offering Yellowstone assistance. Especially for the park, it’s a marathon not a sprint. But the next step is they need to do a damage assessment and figure out how to recover from what will be a historical flooding event.”

Contact Kate Ready at 732-7076 or kready@jhnewsandguide.com.

Kate Ready covers criminal justice and emergency news. Originally from Denver, Kate studied English Literature at UC Berkeley and is excited to bring her love for the mountains and storytelling to Jackson.

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