Just when you thought there couldn’t be another genuinely bad mining proposal along Montana’s historic tourist corridor to Yellowstone National Park, lo and behold, here’s another: Months after Lucky Minerals initiated the early stages of a massive gold mining operation on the flanks of Emigrant Peak above Chico Hot Springs, now Crevice Mining Group wants to dig for gold on the border of Yellowstone National Park above Jardine.

That’s two sulfide ore mines between Livingston and Gardiner. In all my 57 years of living in the Gardiner basin, I can’t think of a better way to raise hell with hunters and anglers, and the hundreds of businesses supported by tourist and river economy dollars in Park County.

The gold mining interests on private lands that abut Yellowstone National Park and make up a donut hole surrounded by the Custer Gallatin National Forest lands and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, have spurred a conversation about “private land access” amongst a triad of stakeholders – the Park County Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, and Michael Werner, representing Crevice Mining Group.

In a November 2015 Park County Commission meeting, Werner explained his interest to work with the County and Forest Service to secure road access and absorb road maintenance rights of either the Crevice Mountain County Road or the Sin Nombre Forest Service Road. While both roads yield access to a cadre of private inholdings, neither were built for a large scale mining operation. In fact, the section of Crevice Mountain Road that leads to private property looks more like a two-track multi-use wagon trail with moderate size timber reclaiming the forest. Even Park County Commissioner, Marty Malone publicly said, “we should abandon Crevice Mountain Road and wipe it off the map.”

But actions always speak louder than words. In that same November meeting the Park County Commission voted 3-0 to delay addressing a final decision to either endorse or refuse to sign a memorandum of understanding that would grant road building and road maintenance privileges for Werner and Crevice Mining Group. The County preferred to punt the decision and put the ball in the court of the Forest Service to evaluate road access feasibility through public lands. How’s that for lack of leadership.

Now, rumor has it that the Park County Commission may grant road building and maintenance privileges to Crevice Mining Group on the grounds that the county has a longstanding precedent of supporting private access. Since when should private access rights that enable 100 mining trucks per day pulling loads through Gardiner and Paradise Valley trump the security of a vibrant tourist economy and iconic wildlife and clean rivers within Park County?

If anyone has any doubt on the gravity of Crevice Mining Group’s intentions, check out the 192-page Plan of Operations proposal sitting on a desk in Helena at the Department of Environmental Quality. The irony, or should I say, the absolute bewildering perplexity in this access triangle is that Park County and Crevice Mining Group refuse to speak about the purpose of the road. It’s a true head scratcher when in reality this is no country lane access to quaint seasonal cabins on a mountaintop overlooking Yellowstone National Park. This is a road to a proposed sulfide ore mine. This kind of venture holds serious risk of acid mine drainage into the Yellowstone River, not to mention impacts to elk, bighorn sheep, grizzly bears, a robust tourist economy in Gardiner and Livingston and all the noise and traffic that would perceivably roll through our communities.

It’s also worth noting that the upper Yellowstone River is currently under consideration for a Wild & Scenic Rivers designation. Besides serving as a natural resource security to our agricultural and tourist economy, establishing a protection for the Yellowstone River in my mind is also a badge of honor for all of us living in Park County.

Large scale gold mining on Crevice Mountain is the elephant in the room that our elected officials would prefer to turn a blind eye to. In fact, county employees in public meetings have repeatedly said that the subject of conversation is about road access, nothing more.

Nothing more? I beg to differ. Whether its Lucky Minerals or Crevice Mining Group, the county commission needs to recognize that these modern day sourdoughs are barking up the wrong tree. If you agree, I encourage you to attend the upcoming Community Meeting, February 1st at 6:00PM at the Gardiner Community Center.

Paul Miller, Gardiner, Montana