Volume 104, Number 40 - October 4, 2007
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Hoback residents reach compromise
The nearly 30 Hoback Ranches residents seated around the table in the small Bondurant cabin on Saturday might have exchanged few smiles, yet they demonstrated more patience than in recent years as they picked apart a solution to the longtime dispute over whether residents should snowplow roads in Hoback Ranches during the winter or continue snowmobiling to their homes, while leaving their cars crammed alongside the narrow bend of Highway 191.
After lengthy discussion with other residents of the remote subdivision outside of Jackson, the Hoback Ranches Service and Improvement District (HRSID) board approved a winter access plan to clear three parking lots within the subdivision’s residential property and plow into only a portion of the district’s main roads, so residents can access the lots and snowmobile to their homes from there.
After approving the plan on Saturday with a slew of caveats and addendums to appease those who perceive plowing as a hazardous intrusion in the subdivision’s isolated location, the HRSID received consent to pursue the plan on Tuesday from the county commissioners, whom the board answers to.
The board will next seek legal counsel on changing district rules forbidding plowing. Although board member Barbara Burris said a handful of residents still insist there’s “no way” they’ll stop parking along the highway, the compromise of plowing only six of about 26 miles throughout the subdivision arrived as a long-anticipated denouement to squabbles over clearing the Ranches roads.
Hoback Ranches’ developer originally planned the subdivision of log mansions scattered through the woods along the Hoback Rim as a resort location for use during the spring, summer and fall, Burris said, and never intended for winter habitation or snow plowing along the steep and winding roads.
Soon after the area’s development in the early ‘70s, however, a handful of residents decided to live there year-round. Abandoning their vehicles along the highway during the winter for when they needed to travel outside the subdivision, they started the tradition of zipping between the highway and their homes on snowmobiles.
As crowds of residents, most with multiple vehicles, moved in over the years and happily followed suit, however, the cars multiplied at the side of the section of the road, a high-use traffic area.
The number of vehicles now total more than 50, Burris said, but the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) have insisted the situation creates a severe driving hazard since the first cars slid beside the road. Despite residents’ appeals to the USFS for permission to park inside a north fence directly off of the highway and adjacent to the subdivision, which the county commissioners supported last year, the agency refused, not wanting to create a precedent of residents using USFS land for a parking lot.
The HRSID board forbid any plowing in Hoback Ranches in the ‘90s, after a few residents plowed one-way access to their own homes, flinging snow and gravel that impaired snowmobiling conditions and angered neighbors.
But many residents could recognize how impractical highway parking had become. “There have been numerous incidents of vandalism on parked cars,” said Geoffrey Canfield, member of the Hoback Ranches winter committee who said someone stole a toolbox from the back of his truck parked along the highway last year.
“Cars have been broken into, CD players taken, a brand new snowmobile was stolen,” he said. “It’s free for the picking out there.” Also concerned about the safety of locals transporting children to school, Canfield and a few neighbors took the problem into their own hands last year and gained permission from the HRSID board to use their own SnowCats and forklifts to clear a few roads during light snow months.
He said everyone was “tickled to death” to drive in and out of Rim Road and get their cars off the highway, and locals even donated money to reimburse plowers for equipment fuel.
But others complained the plowing increased snowmobiling hazards by making roads icier and leaving large snow mounds that snowmobiles can’t drive across, Burris said.
Canfield and other plowers continued to clear roads after the HRSID board asked them to stop, and then-chairman of the board Judi Adler slapped them with a peace bond, for stating that they intended to plow the following year.
The Winter Access Plan that the HRSID approved on Saturday attempted to address all of the accumulated concerns. Written by HRSID member Pete Tellen and edited by the Ranches Winter Committee, the plan specifies plowing procedures that will accommodate snowmobile riders, such as requiring snow plowers (who will still be local volunteers) to replace dislodged gravel that might hinder snow machines’ progress.
Warnings of dangerous driving conditions will be provided with road signs like “drive at your own risk” that will decorate narrow roads and sharp bends, and a road committee will monitor road conditions on a weekly basis to judge how plowing affects driving conditions, with the power to close the roads if hazards build up.
Surprisingly, the most vehement objections to the plan rose from the man who wrote it, Pete Tellen. He insisted at the meeting that he hadn’t intended for plowing to continue throughout the winter, as the approved version states, but for only part of the season, when snowfall is light.
“In low snow conditions, there’s perfect visibility and safe driving conditions, so then you can plow,” Tellen said. “But if you plow a trough with snow 12 to 14 feet high on either side, it’s not a good idea.”
Considering the fact that plowing only part of the winter would still leave an ample period of residents’ cars sitting by the highway, Tellen said Ranches landowners should learn to live with it.
“People buy homes near airports, people buy homes in flood plains, people buy homes along busy highways, and they buy homes where there’s no access to roads in the wintertime,” he said. “People have the responsibility of understanding where they want to live and the circumstances of living there throughout the year.”
Shari Hahn, who has lived in Hoback Ranches for 20 years, said she’ll continue parking along the highway even after the subdivision plows roads to residential lots, because she doesn’t trust how reliable the road clearance will be.
“Above and beyond the safety issue is the beauty of this place and why people bought here,” she said of the peaceful winters where nothing disturbs the landscape but the whir of snowmobiles. “I think, gosh, it’s neat we get to snowmobile to our houses.”
Burris, who spends her winters in Teton Village because she doesn’t want to add to the crowd of cars on the highway, said most residents agree that the parking situation has passed the “tipping point,” however.
The HRSID board will continue to push for permission for a parking lot beside the highway, which all residents can agree on, but in the meantime the new plan will have to suffice.
“Even people who live here who don’t really want to plow the roads are recognizing that plowing is better than parking by the highway, and a safer alternative,” Burris said. “Things do change, and we have to adapt.”
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