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Plowing the Plug: Officials vow to keep Yellowstone road open for winter recreation

Posted at 8:04 AM, Aug 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-15 19:24:55-04

CODY, Wyo. - Wyoming’s Department of Transportation will plow snow from the road to Montana’s Cooke City and Silvergate if Yellowstone National Park is closed to them next fall and winter.

But Yellowstone's Park Superintendant predicts road repairs will be complete to reopen the north and northeast entrances by mid-October.

Cooke City and Silvergate are Yellowstone’s northeast entrance gateway communities during the summer season. Tourism businesses here thrive on the park visitors who drive through and stop for food, gas, and lodging.

But in the winter it is a snowmobiler’s private paradise because the highway east of Cooke City is allowed to accumulate snow.

It’s called the plug by locals.

The Director of Cody Country Snowmobile Association, Bert Miller, said in 2013: “Well the trail system links from the Beartooth Mountain Range, and Cooke City. We have 100 to 125 miles between there of groomed and marked trails.”

But June’s flooding washed out much of the roadway inside the northeast part of the park. So for now, there is no way out of the towns through Yellowstone. And unplowed, the plug on the other end of the highway would strand people in the towns.

Yellowstone Superintendant Cam Sholly vowed to keep the stretch of road open.

“If the repairs are not completed by October 15, then Yellowstone, with the help of Montana and Wyoming, will insure that the plug is plowed until those temporary repairs are in place,” he said.

Wyoming Department of Transportation officials recently told Wyoming’s Park County Commissioners that the agency is getting ready to plow the plug, anyway.

“What the level of service through the park looks like is still a little bit up in the air," WYDOT District Engineer Pete Hallsten said. "Oftedahl is just getting started in rebuilding the road from the Tower Junction up through the northeast gate.”

WYDOT Spokesman Cody Beers also said the agency is ready to keep the road open in winter.

“We’re going to make sure they have access to the outside world until that road inside the Northeast gate reopens,” he said.

Terri Briggs owns a motel right in the middle of the plug. Snowmobilers are her only clients in the winter. She would like to see the plug plowed in a way that would allow sleds and cars on Highway 212.

Cooke City/Silvergate Chamber President Terri Briggs remarked: “…It might be a great experiment that is pushed on us that is very welcome.”

When asked about the possibility, Miller said: “We’d like to see the road remain as a trail going into Cooke City, but we also realize there could be some special needs for the people of Cooke City, and we might have to do things a little bit differently, but we want to see the trail remain a trail.”

If the plug has to be plowed, people in Cody who don’t have snowmobiles might like it, too.

During the summer, they have to drive only 52 miles to get to the park’s East Entrance.

But during the winter the drive to Silvergate and Cooke City is a five to seven-hour trip through I-90 to Livingston, down to Mammoth, and through the park. It would be much shorter to drive on the Chief Joseph Highway to the gateway communities and take less than half the time.

And Briggs would like to have some extra winter business, after a dismal summer season.

Park County, Wyoming is already helping out the Montana towns with trash pickup.