If You Plow It, They Will Come

Hyalite Canyon plowing timeline.

A drive up Bozeman’s beloved Hyalite Canyon provides locals and visitors with a smorgasbord of winter-activity options. Each winding curve reveals pullouts and trailheads packed with skiers and snowshoers ready to explore never-ending groves of pine and spruce that open to craggy mountain views. Follow the road to the end and you’ll find Grotto Falls parking lot, the meeting place for ice climbers. Prior to 2009, the road was rarely plowed—in most seasons, reliable access all but ended sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Enter Friends of Hyalite. Though the idea for a stewardship group came from a climber, the goal of the organization has always been to build a wide base of support from all users, and Friends of Hyalite has a much broader mission than plowing, which includes cleanup and restoration. “If the road is going to be open and people are going to be up there, we have to help take care of it,” explains Friends of Hyalite founder Joe Josephson. “With increased access comes increased responsibility.”

Today, the group hosts cleanup days, performs road studies, funds volunteer programs, and works with the Forest Service and local government on management plans. FOH secures plowing funds through grants, partnerships, public donations from members, and the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival. With Hyalite Rd. plowed all winter, other user groups enjoy access to trails, peaks, and the reservoir; without plowing, the road would be closed at the bottom of the canyon.

Plowing Timeline
Infrequent plowing for timber sales, allowing occasional access to ice fishermen, skiers, and a handful of climbers
1980: Forest Service and Montana FWP propose plowing to reservoir; neither group can secure funding
1991-1992: Forest Service, FWP, Bridger Nordic Club, Gallatin Valley Snowmobile Association, Bozeman Women’s Activity Group, MSU Climbing Club, and Bozeman Chamber partner to sell $10 passes to support plowing to reservoir; after two seasons of poor sales, program is abandoned
2003: As part of Travel Management Planning, climbers and Ice Festival organizers hold meetings with Forest Service to maintain reasonable access to Grotto Falls parking lot
2006: Forest Service publishes Record of Decision, proposing to close most of Hyalite Rd. in winter; Southwest Montana Climbers’ Coalition appeals decision (unsuccessfully); Forest Supervisor agrees to consider alternative solutions
December 2008: Hyalite Rd. plowed one time under permit for ski event put on by Bridger Ski Foundation; overnight, hundreds of recreationists flock to Hyalite; county plows road twice more that winter
2009: Gallatin County and Forest Service enter unique five-year cost-share agreement to occasionally plow road through March 31, dependent on funding; this is only location in U.S. where a Forest Service road is plowed by county government specifically for enhanced winter recreation
2010: Joe Josephson, Jerry Johnson, and Sue King Mills found Friends of Hyalite (FOH)
2011: FOH secures $10,000 for plowing from Gallatin County Resource Advisory Committee (RAC grant)
2012: FOH awards first organizational donation to road-plowing ($2,000) with proceeds from Bozeman Ice Festival
2013: FOH and the Forest Service sign “Challenge Cost-Share Agreement” to cooperate in collecting recreational and traffic data, among other projects
2015: FOH raises $5,940 at Bozeman Ice Festival and from individual donations earmarked for plowing, bringing total private donations raised for plowing to $32,370 since 2010
2016: FOH is awarded $5,000 RAC grant, bringing total RAC funds secured for plowing to $55,000 since 2010 

For more information, to volunteer, or to make a donation, visit hyalite.org.