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Connection nears in Yellowstone budget-cut plowing

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm •  Published: April 17, 2013
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A public-private effort to clear roads in Yellowstone National Park and open up two of the park's entrances on time this spring despite federal budget cuts is nearing the moment when park crews and state crews plowing their way toward each other will meet on a patch of pavement in a snow-covered wilderness.

Wyoming Department of Transportation crews have been clearing snow from the roads through Yellowstone's East and South entrances since April 1. The state crews have been progressing toward Yellowstone's interior. Park crews have been plowing from the park interior outward.

The federal and state crews clearing snow from the East Entrance Road could meet each other as soon as Thursday, Transportation Department spokesman Cody Beers said Wednesday.

"They're working toward us, and we're working toward them," he said. The completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which opened up America's Western frontier, was commemorated by the pounding of a golden spike.

The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce has raised $100,000, and the town of Jackson has contributed $71,000 to hire the state snow-clearing crews and equipment.

The cuts took effect March 1 and caused park officials to delay the start of spring plowing from March 4 to March 18. The idea was to let warmer weather do a greater share of the snow removal work and save the National Park Service as much as $300,000.

The decision pushed back the estimated date of opening the East Entrance from May 3 to May 17 and the South Entrance from May 10 to May 24.

That rankled business owners who worried about lost business from the first wave of tourists to visit the park by automobile this year.

Gov. Matt Mead agreed to make state plows available to clear the Yellowstone roads provided the state didn't have to pick up the cost of about $5,000 to $10,000 per mile. Now, weather permitting, plowing is back on track to open the gates May 3 and 10.

Cody chamber Director Scott Balyo suggested Yellowstone might even be able to open the East Entrance sooner than May 3. Park spokesman Dan Hottle said that was unlikely.

A lot of plowing will still need to be done after the federal and state plows meet, he said. Areas for motorists to pull over will need to be plowed, for instance.

"It's blazing the trail through the two lanes first and then going back and doing all the administrative areas and stuff like that," Hottle said.

Also, there's always the possibility of more snow. About 2 ½ feet have fallen on the East Entrance Road this month, setting back the plowing effort by perhaps half a day, Beers said.

"We keep that caveat, 'weather permitting,'" Hottle added.

As of Wednesday, the forecast was favorable for plowing to continue at a rate of a mile or two per road, per day. About 8 miles of the South Entrance Road still needed to be plowed.

Balyo said the plowing program has enabled him to reassure travelers who call to ask about visiting the Yellowstone area.

"It's been great to be able to tell them, whether you've had plans in place or are just starting to make your plans, the gates are going to open on time," he said.