KTVQ: Cut off for a year, East Rosebud residents excited about road-rebuilding progressKTVQ:

by Casey Conlon

ALPINE, Mont. – The public might refer to the cabins surrounding East Rosebud Lake as second homes, but they mean more to residents like Dayle Hayes than anywhere else in the world.

“I was thinking about this the other day – I haven’t been to other places in Montana,” Hayes said. “When we had access to the lake, that’s where we went all the time.

“Some people have been coming here their entire lives. Their entire lives have revolved around coming to East Rosebud in the summer.”

East Rosebud cabins
Cabins line the shores of East Rosebud Lake, creating the small community of Alpine, MT.

Last June, that access was cut off, first from the inside: Hayes was among a group of about 60 people who had to be rescued by a Montana National Guard Chinook helicopter after floods washed away large portions of the only road to the lake.

Six weeks later, the cars left there were airlifted out one by one, including Hayes’ blue Subaru, which now sports a dynamite new bumper sticker with the catch phrase, “Drive In, Fly Out.”

East Rosebud helicopter cars
A helicopter had to airlift cars out from East Rosebud Lake one-by-one in July 2022 after the cars were stranded when flooding in June destroyed much of a three-mile stretch of East Rosebud road, the only access point to the lake.
ERB bumper sticker
An East Rosebud Lake cabin owner created bumper stickers to commemorate cars being airlifted from the lake after the only road in was washed away by flooding in June 2022.

Hayes and many others hiked the three miles into Alpine – the name of the small community of cabins – last September when water levels had receded. But most haven’t been back since.

“We’re all kind of suffering, craving to be at our cabins,” said Teresa Erickson, president of the East Rosebud Lake Association, which was formed in 1911. “Normally we would stay until Christmas.”

So instead, Erickson has been working the phones from Billings, and she’s making progress.

“The thing I feel the most about this whole experience is grateful,” she said. “I feel gratitude to all the agencies — the Stillwater Conservation District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the National Forest Service.”

In a surprising twist, a handful of government organizations worked quickly to appropriate money to fix the East Rosebud road.

“Especially Sen. (Jon) Tester, who’s on the appropriations committee – he really went to the mat for the Custer-Gallatin Forest and ensured that our forest got the money it needed,” Erickson said. “We would be in a much different situation had that appropriation not happened.”

East Rosebud road construction
Construction crews work to clear large boulders off of the former East Rosebud Road to restore vehicle access to Alpine, MT, about two miles to the south.

Hayes decided to hike in with this reporter almost one year to the day after the flooding to see how much progress has been made. She admitted it was a tough drive up to Jimmy Joe Campground, where the old road now stops.

“My children learned how to drive on this road,” she said. “Knowing it was going to stop here was not easy.”

But you could see Hayes’ feelings change quickly, as she came across a new landscape. There’s no more pavement. Instead, a boulder field, but one that is getting smaller and smaller thanks to large machines breaking up the big rocks into smaller ones, the start of a new path.

After about a mile, the journey came to an abrupt halt at the rushing waters of East Rosebud Creek.

East Rosebud creek
The water level in East Rosebud Creek was too high to cross safely as of early June 2023, cutting off access to East Rosebud Lake about two miles to the South.

“It’s a lot more water,” Hayes said looking out over the creek, “and a lot wider than the old two-mile bridge used to be.”

Two-mile bridge, so named by locals because it’s approximately two miles from the lake. It was washed away in the floods, and the new bridge will have to be twice as long to accommodate the now much wider creek.

Construction crews on site estimated the new bridge would be in by late June – all the pieces are stacked near the end of the old road. Though full access to the lake is still likely months away, it’s the biggest hurdle left to giving one of Montana’s true gems back to the people.

“For people from the surrounding area, coming to East Rosebud is where they’ve been camping, where they’ve been fishing, where they’ve accessed this incredible wilderness,” Hayes said. “And to not be able to access it has been difficult.”

“When tragedy happens, oftentimes people rise to the occasion,” Erickson added. “That’s what’s happened here.”

It’s becoming a familiar story.

Cut off for a year, East Rosebud residents elated at road-rebuilding progress (ktvq.com)