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Beartooth Pass set to open Friday

Beartooth Construction
Posted at 5:06 PM, May 25, 2023

The Beartooth Pass is set to open up Friday morning, and the community of Red Lodge is hoping the iconic road will remain open for most of the summer.

When the Beartooth Pass is open, it isn't just a scenic drive for tourists. It's a big reason why the town of Red Lodge is able to stay alive.

It's something Montana Department of Transportation maintenance chief Tom Tilzey has witnessed firsthand for 17 years.

"Yeah, it's everything for this town," Tilzey said. "That's a big reason why we're committed to getting this open and keeping it open."

Tilzey and his team first began working on the pass at the end of April, plowing and blowing the remaining snow off the road from the winter. He said that some of the maintenance can be predictable, but a lot might catch them by surprise.

April Road Clearance_2.7.1.jpg

"We've got probably 14 or 15 guys up here for at least six weeks," Tilzey said. "We're aware of a lot of the stuff that needs to be done every year, but when we have those big rock slides or avalanches, then it changes. There's always something. It never gives up easy."

On Friday morning, all of their hard work will pay off, and the road will open right on time. Tilzey said excited tourists will literally be lined up at the gates.

"In all my years doing this, we've always got it open in time for Memorial (Day) weekend," Tilzey said. "Friday morning, when the gates are ready to open, there's going to be a line of cars coming in."

And while opening day means a lot to Tilzey and his team, he knows it means a whole lot more to the businesses in Red Lodge.

"This is huge for Red Lodge," Tilzey said. "I think last year for as long as this was closed, a lot of the businesses are in tough shape still."

Flood Damage BT

Red Lodge Pizza Company GM Nick Gaddy said that the extreme weather and historic flooding kept the road closed for much of the summer last year and hurt his business.

"We do 50 percent of our sales in a three-month period, you know, once the pass opens," Gaddy said. "I mean, it's everything really."

Gaddy said that the pass opening helps all businesses in town.

"It ripples everywhere," Gaddy said. "It's Airbnbs, it's hotels, it's the supermarket. It's like every business in town that was affected by that."

And that's the main reason why Gaddy is so appreciative of what Tilzey and his team do.

Beartooth Pass

"We kind of like to think of it as open once they've cleared the snow and the road opens, but it kind of never ends for them," Gaddy said. "It's really nice that they work on it all year."

For Tilzey, who's retiring at the end of the summer, it'll be the last year that the beautiful highway doubles as his office, but he said his goal has always stayed the same.

"We've always just wanted to get our work done and the road ready for the summer," Tilzey said. "We like to get out of the way and let the public have the road for the summer."