Bighorn Pass Road: The Road Never Built

April 08, 2016 Posted by: Elizabeth Shulman, 2015 Archives Intern

The northwestern portion of Yellowstone National Park is one of the most remote in the park.  Hikers must hike and backpack into the area to enjoy the picturesque scenery of the Gallatin Range.  However, this region of the park almost had a road built through it which would have connected the northwest boundary to the Grand Loop Road just south of Mammoth Hot Springs.  The citizens of Bozeman wanted this wagon road constructed so they could easily access the Gallatin region for camping but were met with constant opposition from the military and US Army Corp of Engineers.  The land for the road was surveyed three times, in 1904, 1907, and 1928, but was never built.

 

In 1904, the people of Bozeman asked their Congressmen to secure $20,000 of the $250,000 appropriated to Yellowstone National Park for the construction of a wagon road connecting the park to the Gallatin County Wagon Road via Bighorn Pass.  They wanted the road to gain easy access to the fishing, camping, and scenery of the Gallatin Range.  A survey conducted by Jas. M. Robertson in 1895 concluded “a wagon road is practicable for this route.”  However, Major Hiram Chittenden of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers disagreed.  Chittenden argued building the road would be costly, that there was no public necessity for the road, and that a road through Bighorn Pass would only benefit the people of Bozeman.  He also contended that building the road was contradictory to the policy against ruining the natural condition of the park by constructing unnecessary roads.  Major John Pitcher agreed with Chittenden and added that an additional entrance to the park would overburden the soldiers.  Based on Chittenden’s report, money was never appropriated for the road in 1904.

 

Despite these setbacks, the people of Bozeman and their politicians refused to stop fighting for a road through the Gallatin Range.  In 1907, Senator Joseph M. Dixon added a provision to the Sundry Civil Bill appropriating $1000 for a survey of the Bighorn Pass Road by the War Department.  In a letter to Secretary of War William Howard Taft, Dixon stated, “The people of Western Montana are especially desirous of an entrance into the Park for private camping parties.  We do not want an expensive road constructed there and I fear that the local management in making the survey might inadvertently survey a road, the cost of which would be prohibitive.  All that the people want is a road that is passable for camping parties.”  Four different surveys were conducted under the leadership of 1st Lieutenant E. D. Peek of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.  Like his predecessors, Peek argued against the road in any of the locations surveyed as it would be used by very few people.  He also stated in his report that the areas suggested for the road would be snow covered at least until the middle of June, severely restricting the length of time the road would be open.  However, his main reason for objecting to the construction of a road through the Gallatin Range was that the Corp of Engineers was having enough problems maintaining the existing roads and the proposed road would burden the road crews with little benefit to the public.  As in 1904, money was never appropriated by Congress for the road.

 

A road through the Gallatin Range was not proposed again until the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad Company gave $10,000 to Yellowstone to survey the Bighorn Pass Road in 1928.  It is unclear why the railroad company was interested in building a road through the northwestern region of the park.  However, nothing came of the survey and Yellowstone returned the remaining funds back to the company.


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Last updated: April 8, 2016

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