More Kudos for the Forest Service

Submitted by erin on Mon, 03/10/2008 - 23:27
We took the Junior Mountaineering Team out for a mission on Saturday and the last beta we got on the road conditions were from Tuesday. We decided not to take any chances and snowmobile in from the fishing access. We arrived early AM in the dark and missed the one sign that said no snowmobiles allowed. The road was definitely driveable - though there was one large 4X4 truck stuck on the shoulder. We were happy of our choice though, because it meant that there would be no surprises: we were going to make to the trailhead and back without trouble. On the way back, however, we were stopped by Officer Leddy (sp?). She said that she saw our vehicles and "did not know what to do." So she decided to "give us a break" and issue a warning. "It's a state violation to be driving a snowmobile on a maintained roadway." First issue: Does a federal law enforcement officer have the right to enforce a state law? Second issue: Is the roadway "maintained" for vehicles? If I remember my civics correctly federal officers can only enforce federal laws. The warning notice says that I was "currently in violation of the above regulation." Take a look below - there is no violation code listed. She "did not know what to do" because she had no authority to do it. [img][/img] On the second issue, I would argue that the road was not maintained. It has been plowed twice this year. With an average mean snowfall of over 6 feet (73.1 inches in town), what other "maintained" road in the county claims this with only two passes with a plow? It is my position that the Forest Service is enforcing laws out of its jurisdiction and is acting arbritrary at best. I am interested to hear comments before I officially present this to the District Ranger.

why do all the type-A personalties move to Bozeman? Thanks forest service for plowing the roads, it gives the poor-folk like me access to a wonderful ice playground. The first point you make may be valid as the stratification of authority creates loop-holes in how to properly enforce compliance. The second argument (definition of a maintained road) seems really shaky, as the road is currently maintained and under a grace (probation) period. It sounds like you got a lucky break as it is posted, be grateful.

Wow! That was the first time I have been slotted in the type - A category. Most folks who know me, usually put me the the XYZ range. I did not mean to come across that way. Your points are well noted. Thank you. Cheers, Et

I'm sorry for lumping you into the dreaded type-A genera. The Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition and concerned individuals went to great lengths to have the road plowed, it seems like this issue undermines some of that work. I'd just let it go...

I would say the best way to handle this would have been to apologize for making a mistake on using the snowmobile, perhaps mentioning you had started before it was light and were unaware the road had been plowed. Making an issue of this with the Forest Service is certainly NOT going to do the climbing community any favors. Remember, we are trying to have the road plowed for climbing access. That's our goal. Once they plowed the road, it was maintained.

HJ ~ I will certainly not make an issue of this if that is the concensus - that is why I am posting this here. But, to be clear was the road considered "maintained" just before the last plowing? If so, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot for access: a snowmobile was the best and safest way to access the ice. Cheers, Et

I doubt that it was considered maintained before it was plowed. I'm sure this whole area is somewhat grey since it's not being consistently plowed at the moment. The interaction you had may have been handled in a manner less than what you would have desired, but you did not actually receive a fine. Also, anybody know if any climbers responsible for snowmobiling past the parking lot? That might not do us any favors.

Against my better judgment, I'll throw in my two cents... Ignorance is not a defense. With all due respect, I also think posting an argumentative message under the guise of "looking for consensus" is unfortunate and goes against the considerable diplomacy and good will many of us have worked hard to create with the USFS and other user groups. That said, the official status of the road is a sticky area and the Gallatin National Forest has been trying to sort it all out just as much as we all have. It's a complicated issue that has been moving ahead rather rapidly. Indeed, there is a learning curve for all parties involved and it's all going to take a fair bit of time and public education by climbers and the Forest Service alike. In my opinion, a more helpful response to a warning ticket would be to spend some time and energy behind the scenes figuring out exactly what affects the road status and how it changes and then using your experience to enlighten the rest of us. I believe the Gallatin National Forest has shown considerable leadership and accountability to local citizens and the overwhelming interest in keeping Hyalite open all winter. In fact, we should be thankful they are up there patrolling at all. It's going to take some time to change the culture of how people travel and recreate in Hyalite and I applaud the Bozeman Ranger District for committing their limited resources and man-power to enforcing the changing regulations. Personally, I hope they throw the book at anyone, climbers included, they catch opening gates when they are plowing, snowmobiling past the trailhead, or breaking any other travel regulations. Long term it is our best interests. If you are unfortunate and get caught at something that is truly a grey zone, I bet you'll get some slack on the back end and there are formal procedures to fight any ticket. Complaining to the District Ranger is not one of them. If it does ends up sticking, consider it "taking one for the team." But to end on a positive note, I urge all climbers to be patient with the changes and any unexpected happenings with the Hyalite Road and if required, be willing to go do something else for that day. Recently when the plow broke down was a great example. They closed the gate until the County was able to get up there and finish the job and get out of the way. This whole plowing experiment this season is just that. It's a test to sort out the logistics, see what use the canyon might get and learn how to improve the process in the future. Had the climbers that opened the gate anyway and drove up gotten in any sort of accident or otherwise impacted the County equipment and the job they were trying to do, it could have easily threatened the entire prospect of plowing becoming an ongoing privilege. I'm sure you are all tired of me saying this but make no mistake, safety is the number one concern the GNF has and one ugly incident could ruin it for everyone. As a community of climbers it is your choice – when faced with an unexpected situation, you can be selfish and do whatever you want, when you want and get a day or two of climbing in with a shorter approach and take the risk of creating conflicts which could get the whole thing shut down on January 1 just like they originally planned. I doubt anyone would want to be forever known as the dude(s) that ruined it for the rest of us. Alternatively, you can "do the right thing" which will contribute long term to help the process of keeping the road open if not plowed all the way to Grotto Falls for 98% of the remaining days between January 1 and April 1. Mmmmm? Lets see; after the New Year you can have one or two days where you say "Screw it" and go up Hyalite anyway because "God dang it, that's the day I'm going climbing" or, would you prefer another 80+ days, year after year? Consider these scenarios wisely next time you are confronted with some unexpected scenario and a decision on the Hyalite Road. Respectfully, Joe Josephson PS: to address another point brought up below, surveys prove that less than 4% of ice climbers locally actually own snowmobiles. So there is no "shooting ourselves in the foot" having the road plowed just enough so cars can make it more often than not. It's still better for a majority of us.

JoJo ~ Why would it have been "better judgment" not to respond? I appreciate your input - that is why I started the thread. In my defense, as a former police officer, I am the last person to be out breaking the law. I simply need to know what the law is. As one of my Captains always said, "You can't enforce grey area." He would have been all over me if I issued this warning. It was simply poor form. And yes, there are only 4 percent of us out there; and that may be the issue behind my lack of support here. As both a personal and corporate member of the SMCC, I have no intention of ruining it for anyone. You know that when you have called on me for support in the past, I have always been there to help. This will not change. Cheers, Et

I would like to respond as well. We snowmoblied up on Sunday to the East Fork before it was light as well from Blackmore parking lot. The East Fork is not a maintained road. When we got back, we ran into two forest service rangers who we have spoken to many times during the season. So i think in that respect, he decided to just let us slide this time. We were instructed that the road is considered maintained once it has been plowed so no smowmobling on said roads, making it not possible to snowmobile out ot the East Fork any longer (which sucks!) So I asked well the road was plowed back in Dec/Jan, was it considered "maintained" since then as well? And the ranger said Yes, technically the road is considered maintained even after 6 feet of snow if it was plowed once already!! There is a grey area if I have ever seen one. If this is how its going to be, I would rather have the road plowed to the dam so when we do get multiple snow dumps and driving has become crazy like it did many times after the inital plow (like the 20 car pile up to get out one afternoon) then snowmolbing would be the safest route. But to get a $250 dollar fine if caught even though the road is completly snow covered.... grey again. But whose to say the ranger will think its grey. The ranger also told me they are going to start issuing tickets instead of warning as of this past weekend, March 9. So please be aware. The ticket is $250!! I would hope that during more meetings about this, the issue of more snow after the plowing making the road hard to drive should turn the road from a maintained road to non maintained and allow snowmobling. JoJo, perhaps if you do have future meetings with the Ranger Service you could bring up this fact please. Thank you! I will also write a letter to them on this issue.

I would just like to add a small concern that recently struck me. The access to the east fork is currently a minor problem in my opinion, with parking being inadequate near the turn off. As of a week ago there is only enough room for maybe 3 cars max at the campground below the E. Fork turnoff and i have seen a car parked right at the turnoff along the road which doesn't leave much room for larger vehicles to pass. I myself have parked further past the turnoff at a wide spot in the road, although i was slightly worried about getting a warning/ticket. So, i guess i have 2 questions. 1. Is it illegal to park along the main road, currently or in the future? 2. Could we get the campground below the E. Fork or a turnout at the E. Fork plowed...or both?

I just wanted to point out that all of these roads are, in fact "maintained". (from the FS engineer's point of view) Maybe not the months that snow is on them, but they are maintained nonetheless, and a drive up in the summer will confirm that. Just not plowed. (frequently). If they were not maintained they would be a lot worse. If we aren't careful we will lose it all. JC

I really appreciate everyone posting their Hyalite Road concerns here and in the Road Conditions Forum. Many of you raise great questions. Keep them coming. It shows to me that people really care about what's going on. Plus it is important to hear about a variety of experiences as everyone is still trying to sort out all the potential concerns. I know it's been a learning curve and not clear always what is going on. Please take a few minutes to read this. There's a lot of info but I hope it helps. The key to this entire process is to remember the long term goals. Which are: 1/ Get the slumping road fixed 2/ Install guardrails (to alleviate the water quality/cars in the creek concerns) 3/ Improve the road and the East Fork bridge above the reservoir, 4/ Establish ski trails around the Reservoir and elsewhere that don't include the road, 5/ Find money to plow the road to Grotto Falls. In regards to the final goal: It is doubtful that plowing will ever be "regular" and in the future it will be on an as-needed basis. The big gap between plowings this year was a function of politics and the newness of the situation and not representative of what it should look like in the future, ie. it should get plowed more frequently. Remember though, assuming the road is plowed in the future, depending on the storm cycles there might be times when you can't drive your Buick up there and even Subarus might be slower than snowmobiles at times. Get over it. The overall situation from the beginning of the season to April 1 will still be mucho better than anything we've ever had in the past. Also, the plowing goal above would include, hopefully, ample parking at Chisholm (which would give you the East Fork parking). The above are the mutual goals that the GNF, SMCC and the BSF are all working together to accomplish. The City of Bozeman and Gallatin County are involved as well. Believe it or not, the Gallatin National Forest from the new Supervisor on down to the Bozeman District level are on the same page with the rest of us and are working diligently to help make the above scenario happen. "The devil is in the details" and not all of this is not going to happen overnight so there are going to be glitches here and there along the way. So unless we want to be dinosaurs walking toward the tar pit, we need to learn to adapt to the conditions as they change, sometimes unexpectedly. For whatever it is worth here is some clarification on some of the points brought up in these forums: The ONLY reason there is any snowmobile access allowed in Hyalite right now at all is to provide access to the Trailheads for climbers and to the Forest Service cabins. Not to mention, the regulations allowing us to use snowmobiles on the roads were set back when we all assumed the road is not going to be plowed at all. The scenario we ended up with this season on how and when to designate the road as maintained or not maintained caught everyone off guard. There is one thing for sure however, if and when we sort out the above and the road is plowed more or less until April 1st, they will outlaw snowmobiles completely, except for grooming ski trails. The thing to remember is that, if the road is plowed more regularly, you won't need snowmobiles 90-95% of the time. To get so many more days, I'll happily give up that 10% when the driving is too bad and the road is waiting to get plowed again. In those cases the skiing in the Bridgers is usually awesome anyway. Or go to Cody where there is little avalanche hazard. The "maintained" status of the road has nothing to do with the FS engineer's perspective. It has to do with laws that govern the use of the road. I don't understand it completely but it appears to me that our situation up Hyalite is different than most "plowed" roads. That is, it is not plowed every time it snows a certain amount and it is hard to draw the line when it reverts from plowed or maintained back to primitive (or whatever). This is where the grey zone comes into play. It is certain, however, that there are legitimate liability concerns the FS has and THAT is where the "no snowmobiles on a plowed road" rule comes into play. Long term, it is in our best interest for them to enforce things up Hyalite even if it is climbers that occasionally get caught in the snare or in any grey zones. I've said it before but the sooner we can improve the rodeo culture up Hyalite and decrease the number accidents and other yahoos running around causing grief the easier it is going to be to get what we, as climbers and skiers, want–keeping the road open and plowed. I'm not entirely sure about the legality of parking along the road above the Reservoir. It's probably best not to do it if for no other reason to avoid any potential conflict with other vehicles or more of those "grey zone" conflicts. As I said above, one of the goals is to eventually get a parking area plowed out at Chisholm. "Patience Butterfly." During the grand experiment this winter, the County and the FS learned a ton about plowing the road between the Dam and Grotto Falls. In a nutshell, it ended up being much easier than anyone anticipated. This is a great thing and is perhaps one of the key things encouraging everyone to keep after it. That said, the entire thing did not come off perfectly with the various miscommunication, plows breaking down, unclear gate issues, etc. I believe, however, that we took huge steps forward and improved Hyalite access is going to happen much sooner than anyone originally anticipated. So lets keep that momentum moving forward and not get overly greedy. The East Fork situation is a great example of the compromise that has been required throughout the entire Travel Planning negotiations. For the record there are 100+ climbs up the main fork and between 40 & 50 up the East Fork. Last winter as Bill Dockins, Jim Earl, myself and others met with the Forest Service multiple times and were trying to simply save reasonable access at all, it was clear that we were not going to get vehicle access after January 1st on both the Grotto Falls Road and the East Fork Road. The choice was obvious. Flanders and the East Fork are still accessible with cars until January 1 and in the future hopefully you can park at Chisholm and ski to the climbs. For perspective, the Big Sleep approach from Chisholm is still easier than the approach to world classics like the Scorcerer, Nemesis or The Terminator in the Canadian Rockies and those routes have multiple parties on them almost every day. So those of you complaining about the added approach, suck it up and count your blessings. I think it's great that there will be part of Hyalite where you have to ski or snowshoe into. Hyalite is the single most concentrated area of consistently formed waterfall ice anywhere in North America (not counting Ouray Ice Park where it is all farmed). If I have learned one thing throughout the Travel Plan process, is that I, for one, took it for granted for too many years. So the prospect of having season long improved access year after year is something worth working towards and being patient for. Keep your eyes on the prize. Respectfully, JoJo