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Bannack State Park reopens after 7-week closure

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: Sep 09 2013 05:34:37 PM MDT
Updated On: Sep 09 2013 09:52:19 PM MDT
BUTTE, Mont. -

Back on July 17, heavy rain hit the area, sending a torrent of mud and debris through town. It damaged buildings and wiped out boardwalks.

NBC Montana has been following clean up and recovery, and was in Bannack for the reopening.

There was great energy and excitement in the air as people celebrated the grand reopening of Bannack State Park. The park has been closed since July 17 due to the devastation of a flash flood.

"Bannack really has stood the test of time for over 150 years," said Governor Steve Bullock, "and even a flash flood couldn't take that away."

The flash flood that hit did extensive damage to the historic ghost town. Eighty percent of the town's 60 historic buildings were impacted. It shut down the park for about seven weeks.

We're told the restoration work is not over yet.

"The Assay Office has to be rebuilt," said Assistant Park Manager Tom Lowe, "that's going to take some time. Also, the house next to it, the Turner House, suffered some severe damage."

Park Officials showed Bullock and Montana State Parks Administrator Chas Van Genderen the restoration work.

"Seven weeks later, the place looks almost as good as new," Van Genderen said.

Van Genderen toured Bannack shortly after the flash flood. He told us the progress was remarkable.

"In reality things went much smoother than expected," said Van Genderen. "If you asked me seven weeks ago, would we be standing here in early September, I would've privately told you, 'no way.'"

We followed the group as they toured the park, meeting with students who were panning for gold for the reopening celebration.

The governor told the crowd he is inspired by how the community rallied around this unique piece of Montana.

"We come together as friends and neighbors to get things done," Bullock said.

Lowe said the silver lining of the flood is people realizing the importance of the park.

"It's tremendously important," he explained, "this is our heritage and history. Bannack is a huge treasure in Montana."

Park officials also said they're working to make sure something like this doesn't happen at Bannack again.

"We're going to take a look at the gulch up there, the gully, where the water came from, perhaps we can find a way to prevent this from happening again," Lowe said.

So what's next for Bannack State Park? There are two upcoming events -- Saturday, September 14, is the Mason's Convention, and on September 26 through the 29, the Living History event.