Montana Federal Sites Get Major Upgrades
When she looks over a Forest Service map of Hyalite Canyon, part of the Gallatin National Forest in southwestern Montana, Bozeman District Ranger Lisa Stoeffler can count two sites – including campgrounds, trailheads, parking lots and pavilions – that won't be touched by construction equipment this year.
Everywhere else, piles of gravel and rumbling diesels will, or have, become temporary norms in a place known more for cascading waterfalls and sweeping mountain views, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.
"We appreciate people's patience," Stoeffler said. "This isn't what they look for when they come up Hyalite."
Everything that brings people to Hyalite — camping, fishing, and hiking, to name a few – is still available in spades.
But one campsite, Hood Creek Campground, is closed and parking spaces in the day use area and the Blackmore trailhead parking lots have been taken up by construction equipment and material. Work continues to secure a hillside that tends to slide, reducing traffic to one lane on part of the road. And later this year, trailheads to Grotto Falls and at the end of the East Fork Road will be closed for about a week as they are rebuilt.
The biggest impact on users so far is a $425,000 reconstruction project at Hood Creek Campground, a 29-campsite area that sits along Hyalite Reservoir. The entire campground has been closed as contractors rip up fire rings and picnic tables in order to reconfigure the area.
Stoeffler said the huge growth in use that Hyalite Canyon has seen in recent years – 1,400 cars traveled up the road on July 3 alone — has made the work necessary.
"So many of our campgrounds started as mom-and-pop things and they were never engineered," she said. "They kept getting user expanded and pushed and finally we said, ‘OK, this doesn't work anymore.'"
Jane Ruchman, forest landscape architect, said vehicles people drive now put stress on the land.
"We designed this campground when rigs were smaller," she said.
But the fact that so many projects hit at once was not by design, Stoeffler said.
"It was not intentional," she said. "If we have a need like a reconstruction of a major campground, we prepare those projects and put them into a (region-wide) queue. A couple just hit the queue at once."
However, she said that once the work is done, the area will be better for visitors. There will be more places to park, more places to camp, and better bathrooms.
"We're either lucky or unlucky," she said. "It's very exciting. But it's challenging for us and the public."