From fires to floods, Gardiner's Yellowstone Raft Company is rising in the face of adversity

sarah ondrus.jpg
Posted at 1:10 PM, Jul 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 15:10:29-04

Empty parking spaces, scarce streets, and a lonely park entrance have become too normal for the gateway town of Gardiner.

A community that used to have a headache with the summer tourism traffic is now experiencing a stark contrast—as the road near their entrance to Yellowstone National Park is being restored following the flooding of the Yellowstone.

“With the entrance closed to the general public, people aren’t interested in coming to our town. We’ve actually had people on the phone telling us our town is in shambles,” Sarah Ondrus said.

Ondrus owns Paradise Adventure Company, Yellowstone Raft Company, and Yellowstone Tepees with her husband. Together they have been navigating the challenges that Gardiner has faced in the last few years.

The pandemic at the top of 2020, followed by a fire in the heart of downtown Gardiner in July 2020, and now the historic flooding of the Yellowstone River. Ondrus’ Yellowstone Raft Company building was one of the buildings that was destroyed by the fire.

The most recent hit to Gardiner, the flood, is stacking up to be the worst of them all. The Gardiner Chamber of Commerce estimates that $100 million of revenue will be lost because of the closed North Gate.

“It’s actually worse, way worse than COVID, way worse,” Ondrus said. “How is our business going to look? Is this the end of our summer?”

On a typical summer day, Yellowstone Raft would see anywhere from 20 to 30 raft trips off a day, now they are operating on 10% of that. Raft cancellations began on June 13, the first day of the flooding, around lunch time and people have continued to change their plans.

Although some hotels and restaurants have closed their doors for the summer, different outfitters, hiking trails and activities in Gardiner are operational.

“Trying to do our best to promote it positively as a staycation, as a day tour for our local Montanans,” Ondrus said. “I encourage anyone to come visit our small mountain town.”