Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Beaver Creek Park Board on Monday agreed to pursue several ideas on how to reduce the danger of caranimal crashes in the park during periods when cattle are grazing in the park. These include more visible signage, public service announcements and installing a cross fence in the park to reduce the length of highway where drivers will encounter the animals. “We’ve talked about everything from (reflective) ear tags to painting cows,” Steve Mariani, chair of the park board, told Michael MacDonald of the Montana Department of Transportation during Monday’s regular Park Board meeting. Ranchers buy leases from the county to graze their cattle from the day after Labor Day to the end of December. The county was warned by MDT earlier this year that because of the high rate of car-cow crashes in the park, something needed to be done to reduce the number of crashes. MDT listed 13 car-cow crashes on the 17 miles of highway in the last four years. The issue was a hot topic in 2000, when MDT was planning to take over the maintenance of Montana State Highway 234 including the section through the park. Under state law, any state-maintained highway must be fenced off. After the high opposition to fencing Beaver Creek Highway came up during discussions of the issue, local legislators proposed an exemption to the fencing requirement in Beaver Creek. The legislation passed in 2001. The Hill County Commissioners have said fencing the highway is not necessarily the answer, but something has to be done to show MDT the county is mitigating the problem.Commissioner Mike Anderson told MacDonald on Monday that many good ideas have been brought forth, and while none of them is probably the answer and the problem may never be completely solved, he believes the problem can be reduced. “I think it will be a combination,” Anderson said. “One thing won't solve this problem.” One suggestion was to provide better signage to warn drivers there will be cattle in the park. MacDonald, MDT’s Havre Division area maintenance chief, said MDT will probably be able to temporarily loan the county two large signs as used in construction to notify drivers about the cattle. “We could probably do something for the first two weeks (of the lease period),” he said. Mariani said that could be a key. The biggest issue is educating drivers and making sure they know they will encounter cattle, he said. “I think the first two weeks is the most important time,” he said. The group discussed where to place the signs, and decided that having one south of Havre before drivers enter the park and another by Camp Kiwanis might be the most effective. MacDonald said, along with needing the signs for other projects, one concern is that they might be damaged if left in the park too long. The signs cost more than $30,000 each, he said. Other signage was also discussed. Board member Mel Gomke said large signs with flashing lights at the top, such as he used to use when he owned Mel’s Foods at the south end of town, cost less than $1,000 and might be a good investment. Park Superintendent Chad Edgar said he is researching the cost of signs, and has found large signs up to 4-feet by 6-feet of highly reflective material for $200 to $500 each. The group discussed using the MDT construction signs for the beginning of the grazing period as well as erecting highly reflective signs through the park for its duration. Edgar said a recent meeting of the park Grazing Committee also brought forward some ideas. Better signs and flashers was one of those ideas, along with requesting more law enforcement patrols on the highway, having the ditches on the side of the road mowed just before the cattle are brought on to increase visibility, and building a cross-fence at Reum Road to split the park into sections, reducing the length of highway where cattle will be found at one time. MacDonald said MDT could schedule the mowing of the highway a week before Labor Day to try to increase visibility of the cattle, as suggested. He added that the amount of mowing the department does has been reduced where most highways had been mowed at least twice a year, that has been reduced to once a year in most locations, he said. “They cut us back because of fuel costs,” MacDonald said. Edgar said grazing committee member Bill Bradbury suggested at the grazing meeting that how a cross fence is built could impact its effectiveness. If a fence is built at right angles to the highway it is likely to cause cattle to congregate at the corner, increasing the amount of livestock on the road. If, however, it angles off, the cattle are more likely to move along the fence until they find more grazing, he said. Mariani said the key seems to be educating people that the cattle are on the park and may be on the highway. He said the Park Board plans to start a campaign of public service announcements through the local media before and early in the grazing season to try to do this. “We just need to try to make people more aware,” he said.