Forest Service seeks long-term plan to keep Hyalite open in winter


POSTED: 7:54 PM Mar 06 2013
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Patti Steinmiller is a member of a women's activity group.  She says, come wintertime, they head to Hyalite.

"We do a lot of winter recreation in Hyalite Canyon and we appreciate having roads plowed and access to trails," explains Steinmiller.

She's not the only one.  Folks with the non-profit group Friends of Hyalite say close to 7,000 cars go through Hyalite Canyon's gates every month during the winter.

"The winter recreation in Hyalite has become such an asset to the county and visitors to the county," says Bozeman District Ranger Lisa Stoeffler.

It couldn't happen without a contract between the county and the Forest Service.  Each pay around $12,000 to keep Hyalite Canyon roads plowed in winter months.

"According to the travel plan, the law of the land for the Gallatin National Forest, if that road's not plowed, it will be gated at the bottom...then we're all sort of out of our favorite backyard in the winter," says Friends of Hyalite Executive Director Joe Josephson.

Folks with the Forest Service tell me they're committed to keeping these gates open during winter months but say they can't continue to fund plowing Hyalite roads as they have been for the past several years.

"We need to do something to either reduce those costs or we need to do some things to engage the people who use Hyalite in the winter to contribute to that," explains Stoeffler.

I went to Hyalite to find out if folks are aware of how the gates stay open during winter months.

"I'm not aware of how it stays open."

Greg Pack says he's in Hyalite cross country skiing or snowshoeing every few weeks.

"Access here is incredible.  It's real close to home, easy to access a ton of different trails," says Pack.

It's why Pack says keeping access open to Hyalite Canyon is important to the community and why he says he's willing to help.

"Would you be willing to make a donation?" I asked.

"Absolutely.  I think most people up here would be willing to pay a pass or fee just to gain access up here," replied Pack.

Folks with the Forest Service say, without outside donations from those who use the canyon and partners like Friends of Hyalite, they say they would either have the road open for a shorter season or plow less of the road.

Leaders with Friends of Hyalite say they're working on fundraisers to keep roads plowed, like the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival, which raised $10,000 for the cause.