By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune
Park County road and bridge crews will continue to maintain a Shoshone National Forest road leading to the ghost town of Kirwin.
On Tuesday, county commissioners renewed a five-year agreement with the Forest Service to maintain that route west of Meeteetse, plus two county roads in the Sunlight area that also lie within the Shoshone. In exchange for that work, the Forest Service will pay the county up to $15,000 a year.
Commissioner Lloyd Thiel cast the lone vote against the cooperative agreement, saying he wanted the maintenance of the Kirwin road to be turned over to a private contractor.
“I realize a lot of this is working with you guys and everything,” Thiel told Shoshone representatives, “but I’m also representing all the taxpayers out here in the county that might be employed privately by doing this.”
He also said the county was losing money on the arrangement; in 2019, county officials said the Forest Service’s payment covered about 37.5% of the roughly $47,500 cost to maintain 25.3 miles of the Hunter Creek, Sunlight and Kirwin roads.
However, the Hunter Creek and Sunlight roads are owned by the county and would be maintained by county crews regardless of whether the Shoshone was helping pay for the work. And as for the road to Kirwin, Park County Engineer Brian Edwards has previously suggested that the route — which is used by local recreationists — could potentially be closed if the county didn’t maintain it. He noted that the county also plows the Beartooth Highway to the Pilot Creek snowmobiling parking area in the Shoshone each winter.
“We have a relationship [with the Shoshone] to where it’s in the public good to try to work together to take care of some of these things that would be kind of costly to contract out,” Edwards said.
The Shoshone’s district engineer, Beau Batista, said it’s better for taxpayers if the forest can maintain the roads at a lower cost. He also said that, out of the three private contractors that currently maintain other Shoshone roads, only one has ties to Park County.
Hoping to find cost savings last year, Shoshone officials had asked the county to consider taking on 28 additional miles of forest roads that are now maintained by contractors.
However, commissioners balked at taking work away from the private sector — and Shoshone officials were ultimately unsure they would save any money; forest officials said they pay an average of $1,100 to $2,000 per mile, while Edwards estimated the county would want to charge $1,800 to $2,000.
While commissioners gave no indication Tuesday that they were interested in taking on any other roads in the Shoshone, the board voted 3-1 to continue maintaining the Kirwin route and renew the entire agreement.
In supporting the arrangement, Commissioner Scott Mangold wondered whether the Forest Service could make other federal funding contingent on the county maintaining the Kirwin Road for free.
“… I think for [$15,000], we’re getting a pretty good deal,” he said.