Campsite next for new Yellowstone River park

by Robert Nolte 

POMPEYS PILLAR – Despite opposition from a local rancher, plans to build 35 campsites and make road improvements this spring are progressing at the new Yellowstone River State Park.

The sprawling 200-acre recreational area is open now but camping is not allowed, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which maintains and operates it.

The public has until Monday, April 19, to file comments about development of the park, scheduled to open a new gravel road and campsites this summer.

However, at least one rancher in the area is concerned about the anticipated influx of campers in an area that for years has been primarily used for agriculture and ranching.

Annie Rowe sent an 8-page letter to Yellowstone County commissioners recently, outlining her opposition to the park.

“Before FWP constructed (a) parking lot, we made them aware—this parking puts children and people, that don’t understand cows and bulls, into a possible dangerous situation.”

Rowe said about 20 to 30 vehicles use Bozeman Trail Road daily to access the park. The county road cuts through Rowe’s open range livestock pasture and a hay field.

“There are several blind curves with 90-plus-year-old cow trails crossing them,” she said. “You can’t change cow trails. These new campsites would increase the traffic. . .(and the public) who do not understand the habits of livestock. The cows and calves sleep on Bozeman Trail Road day and night, which could be a hazard to traffic.”

Rowe also said the flow of Pompeys Creek irrigation would be affected by improvements on Bozeman Trail and that, in turn, would hinder water flow into her hayfield, “the mainstay of this ranches’ health and hay production for the livestock’s winter feed.”

The state will improve Bozeman Trail and bear the cost, according to County Commissioner Jim Reno, who noted that FWP at first wanted the county to pay for improvements on Bozeman Trail. However, FWP was treated as a subdivision developer in that it was expected to build or improve roads leading to a subdivision just as a private developer would be required to do under county regulations.

Reno said county commissioners “embrace” the state park for recreational use.

FWP has a budget of $450,000 to make improvements at its new park, which will include improvements on Bozeman Trail and building an overlook area as well as building camp sites, a vault toilet and installation of water and electricity.

Yellowstone River Park abuts thousands of acres of wildlife management tracts and BLM land, both of which are open for public access.

The park is touted for having excellent turkey hunting and has several prairie dog towns for those who like to shoot. Fishing access to the Yellowstone is difficult but for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and explorers, the park offers unlimited opportunities and beautiful vistas, according to the FWP. The park is 5.5 miles from the historic Pompeys Pillar monument.

The park land and wildlife management area was part of the old Circle R River Ranch that FWP purchased. It has five miles of frontage on the Yellowstone River and opened Sept. 1, 2008, even though the park acreage was not fully developed.

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