WOLF CREEK PASS, Wasatch County — Many Utah snowmobilers are upset after one of their favorite roads that was groomed for recreation was plowed and opened to traffic Friday morning.
On Monday, the 10-mile stretch of state Route 35 was groomed by Utah State Parks. On Friday, it was plowed and salted by the Utah Department of Transportation.
Snowmobilers at Nobletts Creek Trailhead said they were taken by surprise Friday.
Sam Clark and his group headed up to a yurt Thursday on a groomed trail.
“This morning, (we) started coming down and the road is closed and it’s plowed,” Clark said Friday. “Now we can’t ride snowmobiles down, so our sleds are stuck halfway up.”
Many were upset because there was no public input on the decision to plow the road, and no one was given a warning that it was going to happen.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Clark said.
UDOT officials said residents in the area have expressed a strong desire to keep the road open for as long as possible. Historically, because of heavy snowpack and limited use during wintertime, the roads close shortly after Thanksgiving.
“It’s low snowpack right now, under a foot, so we are going to go in, plow the roads, make it safe for all of the homeowners in the area,” UDOT spokesman John Gleason said.
The priority is safety, Gleason said.
“We actually have people who have attempted to drive over the road,” he said. “It makes sense from a safety standpoint to take care of that and get it plowed.”
Gleason said this is not a unique situation. Two years ago, UDOT plowed the road through the middle of January and kept it open then.
“It’s all dependent upon on the amount of snow we have,” Gleason said.
There’s a good chance the road will close again once the area gets more snowpack, he said.
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, represents people on both sides of the mountain and is the chairman of the Interim Transportation Committee. He said he’s been talking to UDOT about having the road plowed but said the ultimate decision was UDOT’s.2 comments on this story
Van Tassell said obviously there were some communication issues that needed to be worked out to avoid undoing the work another agency has done.
Snowmobilers can still access trailheads along state Route 35, but they'll have to tow their snowmobiles there rather than linking the sledding terrain with the road.
"We had to drive on the dry ground back to the parking lot," Clark said.
Last week, UDOT announced it would study the cost of keeping high-mountain passes open during the winter and see if the costs outweigh the benefits.
Contributing: Marc Giauque