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Cooke residents plow through road opening

 

The question of when Yellowstone National Park plans to plow a road started a squabble this week among Cooke City Chamber of Commerce board members and Cooke City business owners.

At a meeting Thursday night at the Cooke City Community Center, about 50 community members gathered to tell the Chamber of Commerce that they want the road open soon to make way for tourists, said Cooke City resident Jan Gaertner, who owns Buns N Beds restaurant and cabins.

The Chamber of Commerce, despite business owners’ requests, informed Yellowstone National Park officials that they should not plow the road until the end of May, Gaertner said.

The section of road being discussed is a short stretch of U.S. Highway 212 between the east entrance of Cooke City and the Wyoming  state line. When clear, it enables tourists to come from Cody, Wyo., and also from Billings over the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway. Later in the year, tourists can arrive from Red Lodge over the Beartooth Highway.

When the road is not plowed, it is a destination for snowmobilers.

The controversy began earlier this week when Yellowstone National Park officials offered the Cooke City Chamber of Commerce the choice of plowing the road either very early, March 11, or very late, May 27, said Tom Wolse, co-owner of Stop The Car Trading Post. 

Wolse said he believes the source of the dispute is that park officials made an unrealistic proposal, offering only a too-early option and a too-late option. 

The chamber asked Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk if it was possible to plow the road after April 15 but before May 27, and Wenk said this would not be possible, Wolse said. 

Typically, the road is plowed in the beginning of May, Wolse said.

Some people think March 11 is too early because it shortens snowmobilers’ access, but many people believe May 27 is much too late because it postpones tourist access, Wolse said. 

If tourists can’t get into Cooke City, “businesses are gonna shut down,” he said. 

In a recent survey done by Montana State University, a majority of Cooke City businesses said they would prefer the road to be open all year, said Matt Schneider, owner of Miner’s Saloon and member of the Cooke City Chamber.

Schneider was the only board member on the Chamber of Commerce who voted to open the road earlier rather than later. 

Having the road open is also a public safety issue, said Gaertner, who is also an EMT responder. 

When the road is closed, emergency responders have to transport patients by snowmobile to Pilot Creek Campground on the state line, where they can be picked up by an ambulance from Cody, Wyo., she said.