Our other way out
Local agencies meet to discuss Jack Creek Road
Imagine your driveway happened to be an emergency access for a few of your neighbors, and it was your responsibility to maintain a safe escape route. Now multiply that by 1,000, and you’re looking at the situation Moonlight Basin faces with its ownership of Jack Creek Road.
If access to Highways 64 and 191 were ever blocked, Jack Creek Road is the Big Sky community’s only other way out. We may all rely on it, but since 1992 Moonlight Basin has managed this 12-mile mountainous and private roadway. This is no easy task—think landslides, constant pothole maintenance and some serious snow removal.
The gated road may be a private right of way owned by Moonlight, but that doesn’t mean it’s deserted. Employees of Moonlight Basin, Spanish Peaks and the Yellowstone Club, and members of the Madison Valley Ski Club during the ski season, are welcome to use it, and contractors can pay several hundred dollars a month to gain access during work hours.
Those granted access to the road receive passes and a code to get through the gates. A security officer often stops passersby to check passes, and if it’s found that they’re using the road without authorization, Moonlight can and has pressed charges for trespassing.
Moonlight Basin Vice President Kevin Germain spent a decade commuting up and down Jack Creek from Ennis until moving to Big Sky, so he knows firsthand the challenges and opportunities the oft-misunderstood road faces.
Germain has found that many people don’t realize Jack Creek is frequently used by commuters. He said Moonlight understands the need to keep people and money flowing between Big Sky and Ennis, while also maintaining the wildness of the land the road crosses. He said the money collected via road access fees goes right back into maintaining the dirt and gravel road, “But those fees do not even come close to covering those costs.”
With the importance of maintaining the valuable egress in mind, representatives from the Madison County Planning Office, Madison County Commission, Madison County Emergency Management, Big Sky Fire Department, Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, Great West Engineering, the Forest Service and Moonlight Basin met in Big Sky on May 3 to discuss how to improve Jack Creek Road.
During the day, the parties toured the road, discussed concerns and conditions, and what hazards could be mitigated, focusing on public safety and environmental impact. Funding sources outside of Moonlight Basin were also discussed.
Following the meeting, Dustin Tetrault—director of Madison County Emergency Management—offered his thoughts.
“We were able to come up with some innovative ideas for improving not only public safety but also address some environmental concerns,” he wrote in an email to the Lookout.
“We focused on the structural integrity of bridges, safe egress, road drainage, flood risk, fire risk, decreasing turbidity, and, the landslide areas on both the Madison County and the Moonlight portions,” Tetrault continued. “Moving forward, we are tasking the engineering firm with surveying the area and performing a benefit cost analysis for prospective grant funding. Both of those tasks are required to be able to apply for specific grant funding we are looking at.”
BSFD Chief Bill Farhat left the brainstorming session confident that “all involved were working hard coming up with creative ways to repair and improve the roadway.” He’s spoken with Madison County Commissioners in the past urging them to work towards making both the public and private sections of Jack Creek Road safer for use by small and large vehicles.
While Jack Creek Road does not have an official designation as an emergency exit, Chief Farhat said the owners have always agreed that it could be used for evacuation purposes.
“It is why I have asked the Madison County Commission to assist in its maintenance and repair, for if the community is expecting to use that road (which it is), it is not fair or appropriate to expect a private owner to shoulder that burden alone,” said Farhat.
The early May gathering wasn’t the first of its kind, but Germain has a good feeling about this latest collaboration.
“I’m extremely excited we have a real focus for emergency access for Big Sky,” he said, “It’s about time we’re getting that focus from the county and state… This time, I’m optimistic we have some momentum.”