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How Death Valley road closures are hurting Beatty’s economy

Who will use a gateway if the gate is closed?

That is the question facing the town of Beatty, Nevada while the road into Death Valley National Park remains closed because of damage from the Aug. 5 flash flood.

Both the Beatty Cutoff between Hell’s Gate and Highway 190 and the other route from Daylight Pass through Mud Canyon suffered tremendous damage in the flood. Not only were portions of both roads covered in dirt and rocks, but sections of pavement were undercut and washed away.

The Beatty Cutoff, almost all of which cuts across sloping terrain, has traditionally suffered whenever there has been significant rain, but this “thousand-year” event was much worse than usual. Reportedly, even NPS vehicles with heavy-duty tires suffered flats when being used in surveying the damage.

Beatty prides itself as “Nevada’s Gateway to Death Valley.”

In fact, the local chamber of commerce copyrighted “Gateway to Death Valley” as the town’s trademark.

The town’s tourism economy relies heavily on Death Valley visitors, and with the road closures local hotels and motels estimate that they are losing around half their business.

Patti Butler, of the Beatty Chamber of Commerce office said that she has had conversations with foreign visitors who had planned to stay in Beatty for a couple of days while visiting the park tell her that they were now just continuing north to visit Yosemite.

The National Park Service has published an estimate of approximately eight months to make repairs on the road, and this is something many Beatty residents are saying is unacceptable. Some are looking to contact representatives in Congress demanding quicker action.

Park representative Abby Wines says, “The park agrees that reopening the connection to Beatty is extremely important.”

Nichole Andler, who was temporarily filling in for Wines as Incident Public Information Officer said that, although the park wasn’t changing the eight-month timeline right now, things might happen more quickly. She said it is possible that they might grade the Beatty Cutoff and reopen it initially as a “front country dirt road,” and close it temporarily later while paving it.

The park plans to organize a tour of the damage for Beatty officials and business people to help them understand the scope of the problem.

Richard Stephens is a freelance reporter living in Beatty.

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