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Shaleas Harrison, who researched the road’s history for Cooke City’s plowing advocates, said 1984 was the last time the plug was plowed in winter. Montana’s Park County Commissioners requested the Park Service provide a special-use permit for the plowing, but it was revoked after $200,000 couldn’t be raised to fund the work.
Back then, the Department of Interior estimated the cost of plowing at $200,000 a year plus a capital investment of $300,000. In 2022 dollars, those amounts would be closer to $570,000 to $850,000, respectively.
Businesses and residents opposed to plowing say it will take away the uniqueness of Cooke City. The only way to reach the town in winter is by driving through Yellowstone National Park on its recently repaired roadway that was damaged by June flooding.
Ben Zavora said proof of Cooke City’s popularity in the winter is that there are now four ski guide operations in the area compared to when he started out as the sole provider of the service a decade ago.
“Cooke City continues to grow as a ski and snowmobile destination,” he said, adding that advocates of not plowing the plug feel like they haven’t had a seat at the table as their fellow residents have pushed to open the route.
The Wyoming State Snowmobile Association has also been vocal in its opposition to plowing. The group wrote Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon in July noting snowmobiling in the region generates about $7.8 million in trip and equipment expenditures, according to a study by the University of Wyoming. The snowmobile club referred to the plug as the “’heart and core’ of the Beartooth Mountains snowmobile trail system.”
A 2013 study by the University of Montana estimated winter visitors spent about $2.34 million during winter in Cooke City, creating about 38 jobs. A survey accompanying the calculation found most visitors wanted the road unplowed.
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