Commissioners from both Park counties agreed to further discuss the idea of asking the National Park Service to plow U.S. Highway 212 later into the fall and begin plowing earlier in spring to allow a longer Yellowstone visiting season for wheeled vehicles. The park road between the North Entrance and Cooke City is plowed year-round, but an eight-mile stretch of the highway from Cooke City is not, and is used for snowmobiling.
Commissioners said they’ll work with snowmobilers, business operators in Cooke City, Mont., and others to come up with possible specific dates.
“If we can extend those shoulders without hurting the snowmobiling folks, I’m all for it,” said Commissioner Tim French.
Park County, Mont., Commissioner Marty Malone said during a conference call last week that Cooke City businesses “would like to extend that (wheeled-vehicle) season so their tourist season doesn’t die in the fall and spring.”
The commissioners will likely need to convince snowmobilers that it’s a good idea.
“If you plow it sooner, I’m missing where it doesn’t affect snowmobilers,” said Bert Miller, a representative for both state and local snowmobiling groups, noting that grooming operations have to begin some time before the road opens to snowmobilers.
The trails in the Cooke City and Beartooth Mountain areas are highly prized for snowmobiling; when it closes to vehicle traffic, the eight-mile stretch of Highway 212 is groomed as an integral part of the trail snowmobile trail system.
Miller said any shortening of the snowmobiling season by extending plowing “would just be tremendously detrimental.”
“I just don’t think it’s in Park County, Wyoming’s best interest to mess with the tourist season that’s slowly coming back,” Miller said.
French reiterated that he didn’t want to hurt snowmobiling, but he also noted that plowing could actually be a boost to tourism.
“If there’s some wiggle room there, and people know they can go into Lamar (Valley) and wildlife view and take pictures for an additional two weeks, three weeks, that’s going to be beneficial, too,” he said.
Commissioner Dave Burke noted that the idea of plowing the road year-round comes up for debate every few years. He said extending the plowing season might be a compromise to resolve the issue. Burke acknowledged that Miller is protect his snowmobiling interests, but people in rubber-tired vehicles want to visit the park as well and “spend money just like snowmobilers, too.”
Another potential obstacle, Malone said, is that the Park Service told him it doesn’t have the money to extend the plowing season, though it said it was willing to consider the request.
A road closure date of Nov. 15 and opening date of April 15 was thrown out at the meeting, but was only one tentative idea.