CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Cody Country Chamber of Commerce launched a fundraising campaign Thursday to raise $50,000 to hire state snow plows to clear the road through the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park and open up the gate two weeks sooner than currently planned.
The chamber would match donations for a goal of getting $100,000 together by April 1. Exactly how much road the Wyoming Department of Transportation crews would need to plow to complete the job won’t be known, but that sum would pay for plowing up to 20 miles at $5,000 per mile.
Yellowstone crews, meanwhile, would plow from the inside of the park outward and meet the WyDOT plows somewhere in between on the east side of Yellowstone.
The chamber’s executive director, Scott Balyo, expressed confidence his 575 members in Cody and surrounding areas will step up.
“We’ve had great enthusiasm. We’ve already had, I’d probably estimate, $6,500 come in just a couple hours, which is outstanding,” he said.
Yellowstone postponed the start of spring plowing by two weeks this year to save money amid federal budget cuts. Plowing was supposed to begin March 4 but won’t get started until Monday.
Wyoming’s two park entrances — the East Entrance about 50 miles west of Cody and the South Entrance about 50 miles north of Jackson — are scheduled to open two weeks later than usual in May as a result. The loss of tourism worries many northwest Wyoming business owners.
Plowing might also occur through the South Entrance. Jackson and Teton County decided Tuesday not to pay for plowing but the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce has pledged $56,000 toward the estimated $70,000 cost of plowing from Flagg Ranch in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway to Grant Village inside Yellowstone, Jackson Mayor Mark Barron said Thursday.
Contributions from businesses would make up the difference.
“To the extent that they need more money they will certainly get it. The community is very fired up about getting Yellowstone opened up,” Barron said.
Gov. Matt Mead on Tuesday signed off on using WyDOT crews and equipment in Yellowstone, with the caveat that provided state money wouldn’t be used to make up for the federal cuts.
If all goes according to plan, the privately funded plowing would enable the East Entrance to open on its originally scheduled date, May 3, or two weeks ahead of the current target date of May 17.
WyDOT has not yet decided what equipment to send to the area. First, the department will see if the money is raised, said spokesman Dave Kingham.
Another consideration is how much snow is atop Sylvan Pass just inside the East Entrance. The pass is notorious for deep snow and avalanches. One or two rotary plows — giant snow-blowers that can cut through up to 6 feet of snow — will probably be needed, Kingham said.
Deeper snow would require bulldozers to shave off layers of snow and push it downhill.
“Basically they have to get it down to 6 feet or snow before the rotaries can do it,” he said.
The nearest WyDOT rotary plows are based in Dubois and Jackson.
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