This guest post comes courtesy of our Red Lodge, MT based grassroots group, Beartooth Recreational Trails Association.
The Beartooth Recreational Trails Association was the first Montana-based grassroots member of Winter Wildlands Alliance. They promote summer and winter trails in and around Red Lodge, MT, which includes operation of Red Lodge Nordic Center and grooming the West Fork (Forest Service) Road.
The West Fork, just 6 miles from town, offers something for everybody: walking, dog sledding, dog joring, snowshoeing, XC skiing (including track), skate skiing, and fat tire biking. Snowmobiling is also allowed, as there are privately owned cabins about 6 miles down the road. People also use snowmobiles on the road to access private cabins and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness trailhead at the end of the road to ski and ice climb.
BRTA has had a permit to groom the West Fork road for several years, which benefits all users and keeps snow packed and fairly smooth into the spring. Their volunteer grooms 3-4 times a month; and this season they will have available for the first time a 4 stroke snowmobile pulling a modern Ginzu groomer for grooming fresh or old snow!
The Custer National Forest (now one half of the Custer-Gallatin) has not undertaken winter travel planning. This lack of planning means that the Forest Service does not have a definition nor any rules about tracked vehicles or what types of uses are allowed on the West Fork. This is problematic for BRTA’s grooming efforts and can cause conflicts. When tracked vehicles drive around the gate they can interfere with quiet recreation and destroy the grooming efforts. BRTA also encounters problems with horses on the snow pulling sleighs on runners, which also destroys the grooming efforts.
For many years BRTA has worked with the Forest Service to address the lack of signage, which is needed to govern all the users and reduce conflicts. They are also dealing with increased warm spells which deteriorate the snow. Other issues include a lack of parking; and this year, lack of a contractor to plow the 4 mile access road. Now they are working with private land owners, the Forest Service, and winter recreationists to raise money and come up with a plan to keep this access road plowed. The Custer Gallatin National Forest does not plow any Forest Service roads, but will plow parking lots.