By Michael Somerby EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – One drive from Big Sky to Bozeman, or vice versa, reveals the inherent dangers of Highway 191, when white crosses litter the sides of the road both in singularity and in clusters for much of the route. It’s a constant reminder that driving through the canyon on the two-lane highway is nothing to take lightly, whether it’s your first or 1,000th pass, especially considering there is no cell service for the entirety of the section that stretches between the mouth of the canyon and Big Sky.
In an effort to combat the lack of cellular service along much of Highway 191, including those reception blackouts on stretches between Big Sky and West Yellowstone, the Rotary Club of Big Sky has taken the initiative to install multiple emergency call boxes.
According to Rotary member Lee Griffiths, who oversees the necessary project permitting and ensures that first responder agency needs are met, it’s a project that’s been ongoing for over a decade, when the chapter first installed three phones at the Karst, Moose Creek Flat campground and the turnoff for Taylor Fork.
The Big Sky chapter has since installed call boxes at new locations while also updating older ones.
“The older call boxes were functional and provided a much-needed service to the traveling public. However, the older call boxes lacked a sufficient power source and as such were sometimes unreliable in that there were some 911 hang ups,” Griffiths told EBS in an email. “We made the assumption that equipment malfunctions may have caused the majority of the false calls and set up to replace the phones with more robust equipment.”
Today, new phones are solar powered, ensuring standalone functionality, and are equipped with one-touch calling to emergency responders. Griffiths says three new call boxes have been installed in recent years, a replacement callbox at Moose Creek Flat in 2017, a replacement at Taylor Fork expected to be functional by October of this year, and a new call box at the Lava Lake Trailhead in 2018.
Long-time Big Sky resident Jill Bough made use of the Lava Lake call box after a collision with an oncoming truck on April 27, and recounted her experience in an email written to the Rotary Club of Big Sky; that letter was shared with EBS by the chapter, a portion of which is republished below:
“… The southbound truck collided with me head-on, completely crushing the entire driver’s side of my Suburban and setting off airbags in both vehicles. I remember climbing out of the car on the passenger side in a confused state … As a Big Sky resident, of course I knew there wasn’t service, but I had never thought about actually being in this situation in the canyon. It was then that I saw the emergency call box literally across the highway. I can’t tell you my relief when I picked it up and immediately was speaking to an actual person who explained that help was on the way. …”
According to Megan Mohn, who is charged with managing social media and marketing for the Big Sky chapter, Rotary is trying to promote the locations of their call boxes so people know where to find them.
As the old adage goes, “pray for the best, and prepare for the worst.” One can never know, just as Bough learned, when such a resource just might make the difference.
Visit bigskyrotary.com for more information on the various initiatives and happenings of Rotary Club of Big Sky.