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New Cooke City Forest Service office
The Gardiner Ranger District's new facility east of Cooke City includes living quarters for its full-time employee as well as a garage, shower and office facilities for visiting partners and crew members.

COOKE CITY — A new Forest Service building here has generated some heat in an otherwise unseasonably cold and snowy season.

The nearly 3,000-square-foot building, whose final price tag is still being negotiated with the contractor because the roof isn’t shedding enough snow, has ruffled a few feathers in the small community and Park County because of its size, location and the fact that an outside contractor was brought in to do the building.

Gallatin National Forest officials are defending the need for the structure.

“This offers the opportunity for a year-round presence in Cooke City,” said Marna Daley, the Gallatin’s public affairs officer.

“It looks like a starter castle to me,” said Marty Malone, a Park County commissioner.

He said the county had suggested working with the Forest Service’s Gardiner Ranger District on a place they could both use, since Park County law enforcement has no place to stay when in Cooke City for emergencies like avalanche deaths.

“It just makes me a little cranky that they never talked to anyone else,” he said.

Likewise, the town of Cooke City had hoped the Forest Service might rent an office in its new community center to help defray the cost of the facility.

“We’ve gotten a lot of negative feedback, but what people don’t understand is that we just asked for a house,” said Robert Grosvenor, an off-highway vehicle ranger for the Gardiner Ranger District who is based at the facility.

Located about two miles east of Cooke City, the building can be reached only by snowmobile in the winter. The three-winged, A-frame structure, built by Bairco Construction of Lovell, Wyo., will serve several purposes.

The 1,000-square-foot center portion serves as a living quarters for the district’s full-time OHV ranger and includes two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and dining area and living room. The other bedroom is for use by the winter OHV ranger or can sleep up to six seasonal staff.

On one side of the living quarters is an 800-square-foot, two-car garage that will be used for storage. On the other side is a 980-square-foot combination office, shower and bathroom, laundry room and control room for the nearby Colter Campground’s water supply. Some finish work must still be done before the facility is completed.

“For all of our units, we’ve often had cabins or something available for our crews,” said Mary Maj, Gardiner District ranger.

Although some Forest Service officials seem a bit embarrassed by the size and design of the facility — which was done at the forest supervisor’s and regional offices — they still say the facility was needed.

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“I can justify the fact that we have that available for our staff,” Maj said.

Previously, a small, wood-heated cabin with a leaky roof and no plumbing provided housing. Or crews would stay with people in town or in nearby Park Service housing at the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

“This is a much-needed feature,” Grosvenor said. “We needed a place for our employees to live. Housing in Cooke City is pretty tough to find and expensive.”

The facility took awhile to rise from the required government paperwork and appropriations process. According to Maj, a request for a new building for the Cooke City staff was signed in 2008, but had been in the works for six years before that. Once the regional office signed off on the request, it went to the national office for funding. The money to pay for construction was from dedicated capital funds and couldn’t have been used to rent an office from the town, Maj said.

The $899,000 in funding covered not only the new facility but also two camping pads with electrical and sewer outlets for other agencies to use when they are working in the area, reroofing and insulation of the old cabin, recontouring of the grounds, the relocation and refurbishing of an old storage shed/shop to the site to consolidate the district’s footprint, a sewage system to serve all of the facilities, a tower for radio communication, signs, a gate and reconstruction of the power line serving the site.

“It’s kind of unique just for its location,” Grosvenor said.

To take occupancy of the newly constructed building near Colter Pass in December, he noted, a skid steer had to be rented to scoop 8 feet of snow away from the front door.

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Contact Brett French, Gazette Outdoors editor, at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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