YELLOWSTONE

Yellowstone Lake, river nearing record levels in park

2011-07-06T00:00:00Z 2011-07-06T09:15:13Z Yellowstone Lake, river nearing record levels in park

By MARTIN KIDSTON

Gazette Wyoming Bureau

The Billings Gazette

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. — Park officials are keeping close watch on Yellowstone Lake and the park’s namesake river, both of which continue to rise toward record levels.

The National Weather Service expects the Yellowstone River to reach flows of nearly 10,000 cubic feet per second in the coming days as it pours from a swollen Yellowstone Lake.

The flows would be the highest ever seen at the Fishing Bridge gauging station since record-keeping began in 1923.

“It looks like the forecast calls for the river to reach its previous record at least,” park spokesman Al Nash said. “That was in 1997, and it was recorded a whole lot earlier in the year.”

Visitors to the park over the Independence Day weekend witnessed an unusually wet landscape and a thundering Yellowstone Falls.

Meandering streams, such as Elk Antler Creek, had become lakes, while the Yellowstone River topped its banks in the Hayden Valley.

“People are going to see water in places they don’t normally see water,” Nash said. “But the impacts to visitors really will be very slight.”

Forecasters warned Tuesday that the Yellowstone River still has the potential to rise within the park. The river was listed at 8.3 feet on Monday, with a flood stage of nine feet.

The river set a record crest of 8.9 feet in June 1997.

“That’s the historical crest, measured at a gauging station just down the river from the Fishing Bridge,” Nash said. “If you look at the latest information, they’re saying there’s a 40 percent chance that the water level will exceed 9 feet.”

Already, some of the walkways around the Fishing Bridge are under water. Park officials have also closed Gull Point Drive near Bridge Bay.

High water may also affect the marina, Nash said.

“The boats involved in the lake-trout netting, we may find ourselves anchoring them outside the marina,” Nash said. “They may have to take a small boat out to reach the other boats, because they may not be able to pass under the bridge at high water.”

Nash said an old boathouse once associated with the fish hatchery at Lake Village may flood, though the building is no longer in use. The park’s excursion boat, the Lake Queen, will continue to run, Nash said.

Near Mary Bay, Yellowstone Lake has already risen to the shoulders on both sides of the road. Driftwood and water continue to creep toward the pavement.

“At forecast lake levels, we could certainly see spray from the lake onto the roadway when it’s windy,” Nash said. “But we don’t have any expectation for anything beyond that.”

About 100 miles downriver near Laurel, crews are working to clean up an oil spill that occurred over the weekend.

Nash said park officials have received calls from people around the country who mistakenly believe that the ExxonMobil oil spill occurred within Yellowstone.

“They hear Yellowstone River, and they think there’s been a spill in the park,” Nash said. “This is the longest undammed river in the world, and it covers a lot of country. I understand why they think of the park when they hear about the river.”

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