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Fundraising effort underway to get Yellowstone plowed

Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday approved providing state snow plows and crews to clear roads inside Yellowstone National Park and told communities in northwest Wyoming to go ahead and raise money for the effort.



The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce is doing just that, Executive Director Scott Balyo announced Thursday.

The chamber needs $100,000 and will provide up to half that amount if others contribute the other $50,000, Baylo said. As of Friday morning, the chamber had received more than $12,000, he said. With the chamber's matching all donations, they're about a quarter of the way to the $100,000 goal.

Meeting the goal would, theoretically, allow Yellowstone's East Entrance to open on the first Friday in May -- its traditional opening day.

Spring plowing in Yellowstone had been postponed two weeks by the National Park Service to save money amid federal budget cuts. Plowing was scheduled to begin March 4 but was delayed two weeks with the idea of letting warmer weather do much of the work in the weeks ahead.

Businesses near Yellowstone fret that the park won’t fully open to automobiles until one to two weeks later than usual this May.

Their concern prompted officials in Cody and Jackson to discuss other options, including using Wyoming Department of Transportation plows to clear the roads through the park’s east and south entrances.

Discussions were under way Wednesday to determine more precisely what the cost would be, but those numbers hadn't been available at press time.

“Before we can fund raise, we need to know how much we need to raise,” Balyo said then. “It has to be reasonable.”

Yellowstone Park Spokesman Al Nash said the average cost is $3,700 per mile to plow including both difficult stretches and easier stretches of roads in Yellowstone.

In 2011, there was plenty of snow to contend with. The cost per mile in Yellowstone was $3,764. In 2012, there was far less snow, and the cost was $2,774 per mile.

As of March 13, the Yellowstone River basin snow water equivalent was at 92 percent, but it measured 102 percent at Sylvan Lake, Nash said.

WYDOT officials estimated the plowing cost at $4,000 to $5,000 per mile, but it could range higher over Sylvan Pass, a spot just inside the East Entrance that’s known for deep snow and avalanches.

Yellowstone typically plows the park from the inside out. The total plowing cost for the Wyoming Department of Transportation will depend on how far the Yellowstone plows progress toward the entrances.

Yellowstone and WYDOT officials were discussing those details, Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said.

“It’s just figuring out what the park has to plow and how much the state will plow,” he said.

Wyoming crews plowing from the East and South entrances to meet Yellowstone crews plowing in the park’s interior does allow for the opportunity to open roads earlier, Nash said.

The Park Service is open to snow-plowing proposals from outside entities, but that would require a written agreement with the service, he said.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation has the expertise, said WYDOT spokesman Cody Beers of Riverton.

Department crews open the Big Horn Mountains every spring.

The department is preparing its crews and equipment to be ready if they are asked to plow in Yellowstone, Beers said.

Claudia Wade, executive director of the Park County Travel Council, said visitors will be in Cody the first part of May, and the council is hoping those visitors can access Yellowstone.

If WYDOT crews do plow the roads ahead of the Park Service’s delayed timeline, the Park County Travel Council will apply its advertising revenue to notify travelers of the openings, Wade said.

Mead said the Wyoming Office of Tourism also stands ready to get the message out about the park gates being open to travelers.

In a written statement, Mead said, “This is a uniquely Wyoming solution that benefits the entire country because it gives the public the access to Yellowstone it has typically enjoyed. Yellowstone is spectacular — one of the crown jewels of the national park system — and we want all to be able to experience its many wonders as they have in the past.

“This is also a win for Wyoming’s economy because businesses can start hiring on time and providing jobs that people and communities count on,” he said.

Wade applauded Mead’s and the Department of Transportation’s, Cody chamber, Park County Commission, Buffalo Bill Center of the West and others’ efforts to get Yellowstone gates open.

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