Protect Our Plug

Mission + History

Where the road ends the adventure begins!

1) Our vital snowmobile and ski economy depend on keeping Highway 212 “The Plug” unplowed until the creation of an equivalent replacement “Trail A” snowmobile trail (size & distance), and two USFS-approved parking lots are built.

PARC wants to drop the plow and open the road now without any proper planning or infrastructure. What’s the rush? After 40 years why not open it the right way? When we plow the plug responsibly, everyone wins.

We welcome discussion with parties interested in plowing the plug and believe our voices should have equal representation at local, state, and federal meetings. 

2) POP requests transparency on why Xanterra, PARC, Cody WY, Red Lodge, Livingston, and Gardiner MT, have any interest in opening our road? And what is the rush to “drop the plow” without any proper planning or infrastructure?

History:
Cooke City is a unique town that is situated in a narrow mountain valley surrounded by National Forrest and Yellowstone National Park. It is 4 miles from the Northeast Gate of YNP and 1.5 hours from Cody, Wyoming to the East. Cooke City consists of 7 lodging establishments 2 gas stations and about 7 restaurants depending on the season. There are two small grocery stores and a couple of souvenir shops. It is no wonder we have been voted the Coolest Small Town in America. 

Summertime brings visitors from all over the world to enjoy the park, fly fishing, hiking, backpacking and experiencing an authentic quaint western town. An important aspect that contributes to our uniqueness is the fact that we are at the END OF THE ROAD in the winter. 

Cooke City is ranked in the top 10 snowmobiling destinations in the US. Riders come from all areas of the lower 48, Alaska, and even Canada to explore our backcountry riding. In recent years, Cooke City has exploded as a destination for backcountry skiing, after being featured in prominent ski films and magazines. However, you don’t have to be a skier or snowmobiler to enjoy Cooke City’s end-of-the road feel.

Key Points That Support POP’s Mission

Loss of Snowmobile Trail:
Our current snowmobile trail to access all of our riding areas is Highway 212 “The Plug”. If the road is plowed, we lose 10 miles of groomed snowmobile trail which is the only access to our riding. Plowing the plug without addressing very legitimate economic concerns over back country access, as well as infrastructure and safety issues have adverse consequences that affect businesses and user groups from Gardiner to Cody, with most of the suffering absorbed by the Cooke City Economy. This impacts not only Cooke City’s economy but also Wyoming’s. 

Wyoming would lose the trail from the state line to Pilot Creek and their back trail from Pilot Creek to the junction of Highway 212 and Highway 296.  This has the potential to financially damage their trail system.  Wyoming greatly benefits from the sales of non-resident user fee stickers sold in Cooke City.  

Some would have you believe that it is possible to access our riding area from town using the Miller Trail but that is false. This past winter was a low snow year and it was not usable until the end of February. To simply state that we will just have to get the USFS to grant us another access point or we can use Miller Road or that snowmobiles and vehicles can share the road is irresponsible. 

A big issue that would arise for the businesses located on Colter Pass if the road were plowed is their guest’s access to the snowmobile trail.  A new trail is also not an option because all of the property surrounding Highway 212 in that area is privately owned. 

The USFS may be willing to work with us on the creation of a new trail but this will take planning and an impact study which is currently estimated to take 3-5 years per Mike Thom Gardiner District Ranger. With regard to automobiles and snowmobiles sharing the road Tad Dykstra Park County Montana Deputy stated that it would not be legal and cited MCA 23-2-631.

Who Benefits from the Plowing of The Plug?

The first question that comes to mind for business owners and residents of Cooke City is why Xanterra, Cody, Wyoming, Red Lodge, MT, and Gardiner, MT have any interest in opening our road. They have no stake, interest, or knowledge of our town and no understanding of what it is like living in a remote town and how opening this road will negatively impact us in so many ways.

A quick read on Xanterra’s website and recent news articles of their acquisitions near National Parks sheds light on their possible interest in plowing our road.  

Judging from the actions of the aforementioned; actively campaigning to open our road without including our community in the conversation, one can only assume that they have no interest in our town and the physical and economical damage it will cause.

The rare and unique nature of Cooke City being a “Sled to Bed” community in the winter is a large draw for winter tourism. As more western towns are stripped of their roots and unique offerings, turning Cooke City into a pass-through community in the winter not only drives our much-needed tourism dollars to neighbors Cody and Gardiner and the Park while stripping the community of Montana values and experiences that make Cooke City a unique and memorable destination for winter tourism.

Lack of Infrastructure in Cooke City:

At any given time, there are 75 to 100 “rigs” currently parking at the Pilot Creek parking area. Cooke City lacks the infrastructure and parking to substantively accommodate this influx. Where do the sledders park when they trailer to the riding area and then back to town? It means that we are now looking at the need for two parking areas one in town and one on the mountain. 

A big issue that would arise for the businesses located on Coulter Pass if the road were plowed is their guest’s access to the snowmobile trail because it is not legal for snowmobiles and automobiles to share the road as cited in MCA-23-2-631.  A new trail is also not an option because all of the property surrounding Highway 212 in that area is privately owned. 

Any new off/highway parking would require permission and environmental clearance from the USFS as stated by Mike Thom Gardner District Ranger. He went on to state that it would involve preparing an EA or EIS which could potentially cost several hundred thousand dollars and take 3-5 years to complete.

Cooke City does not have a centralized septic system.  Each business or home is tasked to maintain it’s own septic system and unfortunately, at the present time there are systems that are overloaded and do not function property.  Tour buses in the Summer Time already strain our overloaded septic system at our visitors center  If the road were to be plowed year round the additional use could potentially incapacitate this system.  
 

Economy:
Cooke City continues to grow as a ski and snowmobile destination.
It has been falsely stated by some that business in Cooke City is languishing. The true fact is that Cooke City is growing and has been doing so at a steady pace for many many years.

Life Safety / Emergency Services:
Public safety concerns regarding the opening of the plug are enormous and include parking; traffic; speeding; snow removal both in and out of town; and inexperienced, unprepared, stranded tourists unable to navigate the winter road conditions of Hwy 212. Additionally, the lack of direct-to-incident snowmobile access from town would have adverse effects on SAR response times, making rescues cumbersome, logistically complicated, and dangerous for those performing rescues with longer wait times for victims in extreme and adverse winter conditions. These life safety issues present real and unavoidable concerns with dire consequences if the plug is plowed.

At the present time we respond to emergencies on the mountain (injured skiers, snowmobilers, avalanches, lost individuals, etc.) by using our SAR snowmobiles and the rescue sleds that we tow behind them which are staged and ready in our fire department building. 

Since we do not possess any of the equipment needed to respond (trucks, trailers, etc.) if the road were plowed we would have an immediate need to purchase this equipment and find a place to store it out of the weather. The need for equipment would not end with the need to purchase EMS equipment there is no doubt there would be an impact on safely dealing with vehicle accidents when our guests are negotiating the last 10 miles late at night during or right after a storm when the last plow went through many hours ago. 

It is not uncommon for us to get 30-inch dumps how long are they going to sit out there before someone else comes by to help since there is no cell phone service? Will it be in time? 

“By not plowing it stops the occasional out-of-state travelers at designated closure points. We all know how GPS routes travelers. By attempting to plow the plug this adds one more problem for law enforcement and rescue teams. It also puts travelers at risk because of lack of cell service and no way to contact help.” – Sheriff Scott Steward Park Co. WY

The absence of Tow Trucks Ambulance services and Law Enforcement in the area further complicates this issue. With this road open drivers unaware of the danger of driving the remote mountainous route would see it listed as open on their apps and find themselves unprepared for the conditions without cell phone service. The area is often covered in several feet of snow which would mean constant plowing – like the effort it takes to keep the Togwotee Pass and Teton Passes open to automobile traffic. The Wyoming Department of Transportation spends about 30% of its budget keeping Wyoming roads open through the winter already.

Cost to Plow The Plug:
Currently, Park County plows the highway from its junction with the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (WY 296) to the Pilot Creek parking area, costing about $45,000 per year in labor, equipment, fuel, and other expenses.  Yellowstone National Park spends about $300,000 – 400,000 a year plowing and maintaining the highway from the Northeast Entrance to Cooke City.  Wyoming Department of Transportation estimated it would need to spend about the same amount that Yellowstone National Park spends if it decided to maintain its section of US 212, with about half being spent just on plowing. It is estimated initial start-up will be $1,500,000 for the first year. Yellowstone National Park has stated many times over that they have no interest in plowing the plug.  

Economic Impact:
According to 2020/2021 Wyoming Survey recently completed by the University of Wyoming’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the total annual trip expenditures in the NW Wyoming/Mt Sector account for over 7.8 million.  Our two great states link two fantastic snowmobiling trail systems, both of which contribute greatly to our economies.  Wildlife watching replacing what we would lose with our snowmobile and skiing tourism is a false assumption due to the fact there has not been an economic impact study completed.