Bannack bouncing back

Professional crews, hired by the state of Montana to address the damage to Bannack State Park by a flash flood, have done remarkable work in a short period of time to bring about some stability to the historic ghost town. The work will continue into the near future. Here, Bannack’s main street is shown the day after the flood. Tom Lowe photo
This photo of the same area shows the vast improvement to the area. Tom Lowe photo


A small group of concerned citizens met with Bannack State Park officials last Thursday at the Depot Theatre for an informational meeting on the status of Montana’s first territorial capital following a recent flash flood at Bannack in the Grasshopper Valley near Dillon.  Bannack State Park Manager Dale Carlson and Assistant Manager Tom Lowe provided information to the gathering.

Carlson emphasized that it is important in the near future that citizens stay away from the park while the important restoration work is done.  Private firms have been busy since the flood repairing the damage at the site.  Those firms have hired around 50 local residents, according to Carlson.

Belfor Property Restoration is doing a bulk of the structure work, Black Knight of Missoula is providing security, and Thunderbolt Construction of Butte is moving dirt.

Carlson opened with a brief description of the event.  He said an isolated storm cell dropped an estimated two inches of precipitation, including golf ball-sized hail, to the north of Bannack in a short window of time.  The water rolled down Hangman’s Gulch, blew out a containment ditch that runs above Bannack from west to east, and flooded the historic town site.  Carlson said that the water crested about three feet on buildings in the center of town that were in the direct path of the flood.

Carlson explained that the first concern is that of safety.  Bannack was immediately closed and will not be reopen for some time.  The second concern was that of the artifacts in Bannack and to save and preserve as many of those artifacts as possible.  

“We don’t know right now when Bannack will be open,” said Carlson.  “We don’t know how much it will cost.  We don’t know what insurance will cover.”

Carlson said reconstruction of the ditch that historically has taken excess water from east to west behind Bannack would not be covered by insurance.  He added that besides the damage to structures, boardwalks and artifacts, there was a lot of damage done to landscape features.

Both residences at Bannack were unharmed according to Carlson.  The residences for the manager and assistant manager are on the west side of Bannack and sit higher up a hill that the town site.

Lowe explained at the meeting that a barn dance scheduled for Aug. 3 would go on as scheduled.  On Monday, he announced that the barn dance was canceled.

Stan Smith, a longtime Bannack Association member announced that a mini-version of Bannack Days would be held Aug. 14 on the grounds of the Beaverhead Museum and Depot in downtown Dillon.  The fundraiser for Bannack will include a farmer’s market, according to Smith.

Carlson said donations are being accepted both by the Bannack Association on their Facebook page and through the Montana State Parks website.  Updates on the progress at Bannack are being posted on the Bannack Association Facebook page.

On the Saturday following the flood, Lt. Gov. John Walsh and members of Montana’s Risk Management and Tort Division assessed the damage to Bannack.