Drivers will have to start watching for domesticated, as well as wild, animals while driving through Beaver Creek Park south of Havre, with cattle once again grazing the grasses there.
Chad Edgar, park superintendent, said this morning that people are moving their livestock onto the park, and signs to show a seasonal 35 mph nighttime speed limit are being put up.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure people are aware (the cattle) are out there again,” he said.
Local ranchers contract to have their animals graze on the park each year starting the day following Labor Day and, generally, are allowed to keep their cattle on the park through the end of the year.
The grazing committee of the Hill County Park Board monitors the conditions on the park including levels of snow and how much grass is available. If conditions warrant, the committee will tell the producers they have to remove their cattle earlier than the standard Dec. 31 end date.
Over the last few years, steps have been taken to try to reduce the chance of drivers passing through the park on state Highway 232, commonly called Beaver Creek Road, hitting the livestock.
“It’s getting better every year,” said Mike MacDonald, Montana Department of Transportation area maintenance chief. “We’ve been proactive, and it’s showing.”
Edgar said last year two vehicle-cow crashes occurred, one with a single animal during nighttime driving and another where two yearlings were hit in a daytime crash.
He said the park staff is working to make sure people are being careful while the livestock is on the park.
One push is to get the ranchers to put reflective ear tags on their livestock. Some livestock owners have been making their own, and park officials are trying to get some commercial tags available to local producers.
Edgar said the homemade reflective tags did seem to help last year.
MacDonald said his employees are working today to update a large sign, a reader board, that will be placed just south of Havre Wednesday. The board, used for the last few years when cattle are put on the park, warns drivers headed south that cattle are ranging there and drivers need to use caution.
“That seemed to work very well last year,” MacDonald said. “It seemed to get their attention.”
The issue was a major point of discussion in 2000, when the state was planning to take over maintenance of the highway from Hill County. Under state law, any state-maintained highway must be fenced off.
After a series of public meetings in which many local residents said they didn’t want a fence running through Beaver Creek Park, the state Legislature in 2001 approved a waiver saying Highway 234 would not have to be fenced through the park.
The state Department of Transportation did take over maintenance, and several years ago completed a major upgrade of the highway.