By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – Narrow and winding and pinned between the Gallatin River and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, Highway 191 is the artery to the heart of Big Sky and also provides access to a plethora of recreational opportunities. However, the 30-mile stretch between Gallatin Gateway and Big Sky is also one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the area, all the more treacherous for the complete inability to receive cell phone reception or clear radio signal in the event of an emergency.
As a response to frequent accidents and high use, Rotary Club of Big Sky is currently installing a new emergency call box at Moose Creek Flat, 8 miles north of Highway 64, as a part of a long-term plan to replace three call boxes and install two more at new locations along Highway 191 between Bozeman and the northwest region of Yellowstone National Park.
About 10 years ago, members of the Rotary Club installed emergency call boxes alongside the highway at Moose Creek Flat, Karst Stage Loop and Taylor Fork Road. However, advances in technology have made these older boxes obsolete.
According to Lee Griffiths, a Rotary Club member who is spearheading the 911 call box project, the new call boxes will be installed on 10-foot-tall blue posts, will be solar powered and will be serviced by 3 Rivers Communications as a one-touch call box that only makes calls to 911. They will be of value to motorists, recreationists and residents alike, Griffiths said.
“Route 191 is a dangerous stretch of road,” Griffiths said in a Rotary Club news release. “One way to make it safer, for drivers and also for rafters, fisherman and backcountry users, is to provide 911 access in this remote area. This phone means faster access to medical care. This phone may save someone’s life.”
“In the event of a motor vehicle crash, previously you’d have to drive to a house or until you would get cell service,” Griffiths said. “We’re trying to improve response time and get folks faster medical care.”
According to Sgt. Brandon Kelly with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, an average of one person dies in a Gallatin Canyon car accident each year. Last May, a motorcyclist was fatally injured on Highway 191 in a two-vehicle collision near the 35 mph bridge, right in the middle of the stretch that doesn’t receive cell phone reception.
That area will soon get a new call box—in addition to replacing the three existing emergency call boxes, Rotary Club has plans to install a call box at the 35 mph bridge near the Lava Lake Trailhead and another near where the highway enters Yellowstone National Park south of Big Sky.
“The more of those call boxes that are out there, the faster we can respond to calls,” Kelly said, adding that faster response times often lead to better outcomes.
Rotary Club volunteers will install the solar panels and batteries, as well as program each call box, with equipment and tools donated by Griffith’s company, Elevation Landscaping and Design. If completed on schedule, the Moose Creek Flat call box will be fully operational by the end of June, while the remaining installations will depend on permitting review but are expected to occur in 2018.