Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.
This gate shows what the future might be like around the West. The gate is operated by a computerized keypad, something like an insta-teller. And it's all about money. So call the 10-mile-long gravel road beyond the gate Insta-Teller Road. It's a shortcut to everything west of Big Sky - the only road through a mountain range.
At one time the land beyond the gate was public; then it was swapped to loggers who roughed in the road. Developers bought nearly 40 square miles from the loggers, smoothed the road and put gates on the upper and lower access.
Inside the gates is a subdivision where a 20-acre parcel sells for $250,000 to $500,00. If you want to drive past the gate, you have to buy a lot, or be friendly enough with someone who has one in order to get the keypad code. Insta-Teller Road might be the world's most expensive toll road right now, and the price will only rise. The gate is part of an upscale marketing plan, which includes conservation easements that protect elk habitat.
But the gates have negatives. If you're in the ski village and you need to visit your county courthouse, you have to drive more than 200 miles round trip, all the way around the mountain range, to the county seat, Virginia City - unless you know the code for Insta-Teller Road, in which case your trip is shortened by two-thirds.
If you're hiking to Cedar Lake, the most popular destination high in the nearest national-forest wilderness, you have these choices: You can drive Insta-Teller Road to a trailhead, and your hike to the lake is only five miles or so. If the gate stops your car, your hike is 12 miles.
Meanwhile, in between the conservation easements, people who can afford it are buying lots on Insta-Teller Road, and hiking, biking, skiing, four-wheeling and snowmobiling from their more convenient trailheads, putting the backcountry to more use.
"We're seeing more and more use of the wilderness, more motorized intrusions," says Mark Petroni, district ranger for the Beaverhead National Forest. "People with the right politics, the right connections, can get past the gates."
This story package includes these other sidebar articles: