Who Plows the West Fork Road?

To the Editor,

Those of you who use the road for winter recreation will be surprised at the answer: private citizens do. For years now, the Forest Service has not plowed the West Fork Road from the Ski Run Road turn to the winter clo- sure at the Girl Scout Camp. The rea- son? Ed Waddington, a West Fork homeowner, spoke with Ken Coffin, the local District Ranger, and Mary Erickson, the Forest Service Supervi- sor, out of Bozeman. The reason, they say, is money. They don’t have it. (The Forest Service does, however, plow the parking lot at Silver Run. Go fig- ure....) Would the County plow the road? No, according to Commissioner Bill Bullock The County will not plow a Forest Service Road, even though Commissioner Bullock does not believe it would be terribly costly for the County or the Forest Service to plow it. So how does it get plowed? Since 2008, a small number of homeowners along the road have banded together, found a plower and have raised funds among themselves to plow the road. The Beartooth Recreational Trails Association plows from the Silver Run to the road closure or 1/3 of a mile. (And BRTA also grooms the road beyond the closure for cross country skiing.) In other words, the road is privately plowed, a hardly known fact. But the road, especially in winter, is used far beyond the 6 or 7 private homeowners who live on it year-round. Cross-county skiers, snowmobilers, snow shoers and walkers, especially those with dogs, are present every day there is snow. Hikers and dog walkers use the trails at Silver Run and Nich- ols Creek year round, despite snow in winter. We have in fact counted up to 20 cars traveling into the valley in one hour after an enticing snowfall. In an effort to seek wider respon- sibility for plowing the road, Sarah Ewald and Judith Gregory successful- ly petitioned the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation to sponsor a program, Friends of the West Fork Winter Recreation. As a result, the Friends now participate in the Fun Run, and those who rely on the West Fork to be plowed may contribute to the Friends for this purpose through the Fun Run. Sarah heads the Friends and must arrange the plowing; Judith handles the finances. We encourage all our fellow Red Lodge citizens to contribute to the Friends or Winter Recreation on the West Fork through the Fun Run. Applications for Fun Run donations can be found at the RLACF.org web site under Fun Run/Donations. Dona- tions may be made by credit card there or sent by check made out to RLACF/Fun Run with a memo to direct funds to Friends of the West Fork Winter Recreation. The Founda- tion address is Box 1871. We don’t mean to be unduly harsh on the Forest Service. It must be diffi- cult to head federal agencies that are constantly under threat of budget cuts. The Forest Service did admira- ble service to help put out the forest fire in the West Fork three years ago. And they have brought the roadway weeds under control. But plowing the West Fork Road is not just a recre- ational or public vs private fairness issue, it is also an issue of public safe- ty if the road is not plowed. And maybe, just maybe, it is time to write to Senators Testor and Daines and Representative Gianforte to ask that Congress adequately fund the Forest Service in the face of the Trump Administration’s effort to cut back on everything but defense. And we might also question how priorities are set within agency budgets.

Judith Gregory

Red Lodge