By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
“The most beautiful highway in America,” as it was dubbed by Charles Kuralt, has seen its share of problems this summer.
But after a late spring storm delayed its opening in May, and a once-in-500-year-flood damaged the roadway in June, the Beartooth Highway is set to finally open from Cooke City to Red Lodge, Montana on Friday, July 22 at 5 p.m.
“People have been driving to the top of the (Beartooth) Pass to the ski area and then turning around and coming back,” pointed out Cody Beers with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, “but now with the Beartooths reopening, we’re all looking forward to that wonderful drive being open for the rest of the summer.”
A heavy snow delayed the 68.7-mile Beartooth Highway’s anticipated seasonal opening from May 29 to June 9 – and just 4 days after opening for the summer, the flooding that forced the evacuation of Yellowstone National Park and devastated the towns of Gardiner and Red Lodge also caused heavy damage to the north end of the Beartooth Highway.
But Riverside Construction, working with the Montana Department of Transportation, has been working swiftly to re-open the full road, which is a major draw for tourists visiting the greater Yellowstone region.
“I would give a huge pat on the back to the Montana Department of Transportation and their contractors,” Beers told Cowboy State Daily, “because they had major work to get done up there to get the Montana side open.”
The Beartooth Highway is a shared responsibility for Montana and Wyoming, as the highway dips south from Cooke City, Montana into Wyoming, before traveling north and east to connect with Red Lodge.
For residents of Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, re-opening Highway 212 (as the Beartooth Highway is officially designated) means easier access to the communities that were cut off after the flood.
“Having that access point is definitely going to make it easier for people that are traveling from Red Lodge, (and) coming from Billings, and then a lot of people are flying into Bozeman,” said Voguelais Jones, office manager for the Silver Gate Lodging Company in Silver Gate, Montana, just outside Yellowstone National Park’s northeast gate.
Jones told Cowboy State Daily that since the flood took out Highway 89 connecting the northeast gate to Gardiner, Montana, Cooke City and Silver Gate have only been accessible via the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, which connects to Highway 120 near Cody.
“Most of our suppliers are still not able to make that extended trip,” Jones said, “being that they were going through Gardiner for what (is) like an hour and a half, versus maybe close to a four hour drive still to get to us from Bozeman.”
Tourist Season Resumes
Because the Beartooth Highway is a critical component of a day-trip “loop” between Cody, Cooke City and Red Lodge, visitation to the small communities of Cooke City and Silver Gate has been hampered by the closure of Highway 212.
Diane Shober, director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, was pleased to hear that the scenic route that connects Wyoming and Montana will once again be open to visitors.
“It’s great news,” Shober told Cowboy State Daily. “Anytime there’s more accessibility to our tourism assets, to connections to Wyoming communities, and access into Wyoming from Montana and other places, that’s always a good thing for all of us.”