By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY – As use of Beehive Basin trail increases, area residents are feeling the impacts on the trailhead and the surrounding neighborhood.
The two parking lots serving Beehive Basin are busier than ever and overflow cars are often lining either side of the road near the trailhead. This congestion presents an issue for nearby homeowners trying to access their properties and creates a conundrum that Big Sky Community Organization, which manages the upper parking lot, is trying to resolve.
Corey Bronstein, part-time Beehive resident and president of the Beehive Basin Homeowners Association, has owned his property for nearly two decades and said he has watched the pristine area become overcrowded. Often during the week, he says, larger trucks working in the neighborhood can’t pass the section of road by the parking lots because cars are parked everywhere.
“If one of our members ever needed a fire truck or a bigger emergency vehicle, I just don’t know how they would physically get them there,” he said. “They would have a really difficult time navigating to people’s property.”
Bronstein said the BBHOA is seeking out solutions to keep the area pristine.
“We have a problem; there are a lot of people frequenting the trailhead and we’ve got to figure out a solution together as a community to make sure that we’re not going backwards as it relates to the lack of parking facilities,” he said. “That’s my greatest fear is that this place is being loved to death.”
To address parking-capacity issues at the trailhead, BSCO purchased a parcel of land supported by Beehive residents and in 2018 built the second parking lot that it now manages. The upper lot is designed to hold 18 cars if everyone parks appropriately, according to BSCO Parks and Trails Director Adam Johnson. The lower lot, managed by the U.S. Forest Service along with Beehive Basin Trail, can accommodate between 12 and 15 cars.
“We’re evaluating what the next step is up at Beehive, simply because there’s so many people coming up to Beehive, there’s no way we can build enough parking for everyone that’s trying to get into Beehive,” Johnson said. “We’re really trying to figure out what the next step is.”
Visitation to the trailhead is far outstripping the capacity of these two lots. According to BSCO data, nearly 70,000 cars parked in the upper lot in 2021. So far, 2022 has seen almost 50,000 vehicles use the lot.
Bronstein suggested adding more signage barring visitors from parking along the road could be one solution. He also said that adding large obstacles like rocks along the roadsides would prevent vehicles from clogging up that space.
Johnson said his organization is trying to direct visitors to other trails in Big Sky if they arrive at Beehive and the lot is full. He suggests North Fork or Dudley Creek as alternatives that are less traveled and still provide hikers with beautiful views.
Beehive isn’t the only trail in Big Sky seeing record usage.
The most popular trails in Big Sky, according to Johnson, are Ousel Falls Trail, Crail Trail and Beehive Basin. Year over year, Ousel Falls has seen the largest increase in usage. According to BSCO data, about 80,000 people hiked Ousel Falls in 2021.
Johnson said BSCO is working to create more trail-access points to spread out those numbers across trailheads and reduce crowding.
“While Beehive Basin may be a beautiful hike, we have other trailheads that are less busy,” he said. “The more we can spread people out, the more of a solution we have.”
Part of the Master Trails Plan that BSCO has been working on since 2018 is creating more trailheads and additional access points for people to access the network of trails around Big Sky as well as the backcountry to avoid overcrowding at popular spots.
To help alleviate the pressure on Beehive, Johnson suggested that hikers start the trail at the lower Beehive Basin trailhead, which is near the Big Sky Fire Station #2 across Highway 64 from the entrance to Big Sky Resort. The 1.7-mile lower trail takes hikers to the parking lot for the main trail, offering an alternative access point when lots are full.
Currently, Johnson said BSCO is working with the Forest Service to remedy an issue with the easement on the upper portion of the lower trail. When the Beehive trail was first built, easement documents never appeared in the public record, he said. BSCO is working to get the easement re-signed to ensure the lower trail will remain public in perpetuity.
BSCO and the Forest Service are also working to educate trail users about proper etiquette and trail use to help keep these wilderness areas pristine. Wendi Urie, recreation program manager with the Bozeman Ranger District, said the Forest Service, alongside BSCO, is working with Outside Kind, an organization that educates people about recreating responsibly, to help spread important messaging to anyone headed outdoors.
Urie added that building more parking, especially at Beehive, could have a negative impact and reduce the wilderness experience for those headed into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. As the Bozeman Ranger District sees more users on trails across the Gallatin Valley, Urie says a multi-pronged approach will be key.