By The Associated Press
A team of engineers and a landslide expert are preparing to assess the mudslide damage to the Beartooth Highway, hoping to make their initial inspection today by flying to the trouble spots by helicopter, the Montana Department of Transportation said.
Much of the highway between Red Lodge and Yellowstone National Park, via Cooke City, can't be reached by vehicle, said DOT spokeswoman Charity Watt Levis.
Heavy rain and snow storms across the Beartooth Plateau this past week caused major damage, ''like missing road,'' she said.
''We hope to have a better plan and (repair) timeline by the end of next week,'' Watt Levis said Wednesday.
The highway, described by the late Charles Kurault as ''the most beautiful roadway in America,'' winds along alpine peaks and lakes and crosses 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass.
It traditionally opens for the Memorial Day weekend but is now closed indefinitely.
The Chief Joseph Highway, another designated scenic route, remains open, connecting Cooke City and Red Lodge.
All of the Beartooth Highway damage is on the north side of the Beartooths.
Yellowstone officials announced on Wednesday that a portion of the route will open Friday, from Cooke City to Long Lake. That would allow access on the south side to within about 10 miles of the Montana border.
''The section of road from Long Lake to the Montana state line could open once weather conditions have improved and maintenance crews are able to evaluate the stability of this section of road,'' park officials said.
''I can walk outside and listen to none of the traffic go by,'' said Steven Schluter, owner of Cooke City Sinclair and Cabins. He said he fears closure of the highway could cost him 50 percent of his summer business.
''Until they let us know what the plan of attack is, all we can do is speculate and hope,'' said Cooke City Store owner Troy Wilson.
Wilson said the full effect of the closure won't hit until July and August, peak tourist months.