Plowing the plug still a topic of debate

Submitted by Steve Torrey
Posted 11/22/22

Dear Editor:

The road through Yellowstone from Cooke City to Gardiner, Montana, is open year-round so as not to disenfranchise Cooke City area residents from their county seat of …

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Plowing the plug still a topic of debate


Dear Editor:

The road through Yellowstone from Cooke City to Gardiner, Montana, is open year-round so as not to disenfranchise Cooke City area residents from their county seat of Livingston.  There is no other reason the road is plowed in winter.

A portion of the highway east of Cooke City to Cody, referred to as the plug, is not plowed in winter.  The National Park Service has been maintenance provider of this segment.  Let there be no mistake, this road is not “orphaned.”

The NPS chose not to plow the plug many decades ago, thus disenfranchising Mammoth, Wyoming, residents from their county seat of Cody.  No matter.  Mammoth bureaucrats have never considered themselves socially or culturally a part of Wyoming.  In their minds they are Montanans. 

Should the Cooke City area and plug be annexed by Wyoming removing any doubt of maintenance jurisdiction, Mammoth residents would likely demand Montana annexation.  Montana Democrats would welcome this gerrymandering.

Plug plowing will be a toe in the door for Cooke City annexation. 

Yellowstone pro plug plowers have chimed in. Superintendent Cam Sholly, according to an Aug. 4 Powell Tribune article, requested a January survey “to gauge support for the idea” in Cooke City.  Rick Hoeninghausen, Xanterra: plowing “provides tremendous opportunities for Park County, Wyoming, and Cody…to establish a much, much better, more robust winter than we have now”, (article, Aug. 4).  Michael Keller, Xanterra: winter access out of Cooke City “is a critical life, safety and wellness issue”, (article, Aug. 2).  

Cooke City annexation would mean no legal obligation to plow the Northeast Entrance road from Cooke City to Mammoth.  It would become a road like any other road in the park’s interior subject to Winter Use Plan regulations, whereby public access is primarily limited to guided tours. 

Additionally, there would be no Cooke City-bound snowmachiners towing large trailers through Lamar Valley annoying wolf watchers.

The public would be customers on expensive tours to visit Lamar Valley in winter.  Xanterra’s business would increase through its tour operations and of course, NPS revenues would increase through concession fees.  Cooke City would become just another Wyoming community tapping their toe waiting for their gate to open in spring. 

Sound crazy? Not really.

The NPS has already demonstrated its willingness, ability, and nerve to close a road historically used by the public, but keep it open for themselves and private tour groups, i.e, the Old Gardiner-Mammoth Road, which was closed to us in spring, summer and fall.  

“But Mr. Torrey, they had to transform the road before winter…blah, blah, blah”.  No they didn’t.  It would merely become yet another multi-year road construction project in Yellowstone.  This time, however, lengthy road construction would directly affect fat-cat federal bureaucrats in Mammoth, interfering with their two-hour sit-down lunches in Gardiner and muddying-up their Subarus.

Annexation aside, Mammoth bureaucrats do not care about the Cowboy State, which brings us to Sylvan Pass.  Plowing the plug would drastically change public access through East Gate.  Those with long memories know the East Gate summer season has already shrunk considerably.  Time was, weather permitting, the gate opened for public use in April. 

Mammoth’s favorite, access-spoiling trifecta — safety, funding, and resource protection — will be in perpetual play on Sylvan Pass should Wyoming be suckered into plowing the plug. To wit; Safety: Magically, bigger, frequent avalanches through June.  Funding: Fuel prices, labor shortages, etc.  Resource protection:  A coveted new Wolverine Study Area on Sylvan Pass will mean no early or late summer season traffic.

The NPS’ curt response to a belly-aching Wyoming tourism industry —  “You have your other park entrance a few miles farther.”

Steve Torrey