The Friday meeting, attended by 70 or so, was called by a Park County Commissioner who wanted to determine whether the public interest would be served by keeping Highway 212 open year-round. Public safety is one issue: Cooke City is served by only one road year-round — the road between Gardiner and the Yellowstone National Park North Entrance is plowed year-round by the National Park Service — and having a second route to Cody would allow emergency services to more efficiently serve Cooke City residents.
The other issue: how it would impact tourism. Right now that eight-mile stretch of road is groomed for snowmobile use: it’s a key link in a Beartooth snowmobile trail and links Montana and Wyoming stretches. Plowing the road year-round takes away the snowmobile link and would force the trail into national-forest land.
Of course, losing snowmobilers would mean the potential addition of drivers looking for winter access to Yellowstone. In wintertime, the services in Cooke City are pretty much geared for a small number of year-round residents and snowmobiling tourists; for instance, the general store closes as do most of the motels and resorts. But snowmobile usage is dropping in the region; in 2009-2010, the number of snowcoach passengers entering Yellowstone outnumbered snowmobile passengers for the first time in decades. Many feel cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the future for winter sports in the area, and the trends certainly back up that sentiment.
Still, many folks in the area have a way of fighting trends until it’s too late and remember the glory days when snowmobilers were plentiful. Officials with Wyoming snowmobile clubs said they would prefer to leave the status quo in the place, but that they’d be willing to look at alternate trail locations. That brings in the U.S. Forest Service as a potential partner, making a complicated process even more complicated, as Park County, the National Park Service, the state of Montana and the state of Wyoming need to sign off on any deal.
Which won’t be happening soon. One problem with the meeting was the level of preparedness from all involved — or, rather, the lack of preparedness. You hear various figures tossed around for the cost of playing the eight-mile stretch — a quarter of a million dollars, etc. — yet no one at the meeting could put a price tag on the plowing. Similarly, there’s a definite economic impact of plowing, but no one has tallied that figure, either.
So, at the end of the day, you have things pretty much where they were before the meeting. The next step is coming up with an economic-impact figure, and from there informed discussions can take place.