Time Running Out To Suggest How Yellowstone National Park Should Approach Winter-Use-Plan

Mammoth Terrace, Kurt Repanshek photo

Time is running out to provide your input on how the National Park Service should explore winter recreation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Just a few more weeks remain for you to suggest areas that Yellowstone National Park planners should consider in preparing a plan for winter-use in the park.

The "scoping period," during which park managers collect public input on the upcoming environmental impact statement on winter-use in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, runs through the end of March. This long-term plan is intended to guide the management of winter use in the park to ensure that park visitors have a range of appropriate winter opportunities, that these activities are in a suitable setting, and that they do not impair or irreparably harm park resources or values, park officials said in a release.

A scoping brochure is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/yell. Additional information about winter use planning and visiting the parks in the winter can be found at http://www.nps.gov/yell/winteruse.htm

A draft EIS and proposed rule are expected to be released in the spring of 2011 for public review. The NPS intends to complete the EIS process and issue any new regulations prior to the start of the 2011-2012 winter season.

The park is holding a series of open houses to provide the public an opportunity to learn more about the issue in order to provide comments which will be analyzed and used in preparation of the EIS. An open house in Cody, Wyoming, has been added to the two already scheduled in March:

March 15: Cheyenne, Wyoming, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm at the Little America Inn and Resort, 200 West Lincolnway.

March 17: Washington, D.C., from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm in The Old Post Office, 12th Street and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.

March 22: Cody, Wyoming, from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm in the Cody Club room of the Cody Auditorium, at the corner of Beck Avenue & 13th Street.

Public scoping comments will be accepted until midnight Eastern Time, March 30, 2010. Comments should be substantive, pertinent, and provide new information not available in earlier winter use planning processes. Respondents are being encouraged to submit their comments online at this site.

Comments may also be mailed to: Winter Use Scoping, Yellowstone National Park, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190. Finally, comments may be hand-delivered to Yellowstone National Park headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming. Comments will not be accepted by fax, e-mail, or in any other way than those specified above.

Comments

Unless snow machine manufactures are hiding their zero emission, noise free sleds, I think its fair to assume that the days of snow machines in Yellowstone are numbered. Their demise will severely impact the West Yellowstone community, which like the park, has provided reasonably-priced lodging and dining for millions of park visitor. It'll also impact the visitor, who will likely face significantly higher costs for all these amenities should winter access cease to exist. Business owners will need to generate more revenue in a shorter period of time and as a result will likely increase prices—from rooms to menu items to souvenirs and outdoor equipment. The visitor experience will also be affected, as families are forced to leave a community that can't put enough children in local schools. They'll be replaced by transient workers that have no stake in maintaining the community and looking only for the next job.

A solution to winter access to Yellowstone National Park is to begin plowing roads on Yellowstone’s west side during the winter season which would allow personal and public transportation by wheeled vehicles between West Yellowstone and Gardiner and Cooke City, Montana, and West Yellowstone and Old Faithful. Plowing is much less expensive than trail grooming

According to Doug Edgerton, a manufacturer of grooming equipment, most snowmobile trail groomers cost around $300,000 and cost $100 a mile to operate. They travel at a speed of 8 mph. By contrast, snow plows costs around $100,000, and operating costs are approximately $2 a mile. More importantly, they travels at a speed of 30 mph, which allow them to be cleared more quickly. Edgerton also points out that Snowmobile trails, including the snow-covered roads in Yellowstone, have to be groomed daily, while roads only need plowing when it snows.

A more common argument, that winter traffic negatively affects wildlife, may be specious. The road between Gardiner and Cooke City is always open to wheeled vehicles and passes through prime wildlife habitat. It's one of the locations where the Yellowstone Institute offers wildlife watching tours in the winter and one of the best places to see wolves in the winter. While the road is plowed because it is the only way that residents of Cooke City can get to "civilization" during the winter (the beartooth highway is impassable), it also demonstrates that traffic doesn't affect animal health, even in the depths of winter.

While the notion of plowing has been batted around for decades, residents of "the snowmobile capital of the world" are beginning to embrace the idea like never before. In fact, many die-hard snowmobile supporters are willing sacrifice their support of over snow access if they were given assurances that the park would begin plowing roads on the west side of the park. And that may not be such a bad thing. Not only would wheeled-access support the West Yellowstone community as a whole, but it would also make the park more accessible to snowshoers, cross-country skiers and other non-motorized recreaterss who have not been able to visit the park because its been to expensive. Traffic will no doubt increase, however, it's unlikely they'll generate noise nearly as loud as snowmobiles or the old bombardier snow coaches that ply the park roads.

Recently the park began public scoping for a long-term winter use plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is designed to manage winter visitation so that park visitors have a range of “appropriate winter opportunities in a suitable setting that they do not impair or irreparably harm park resources or values.”

Scoping is an opportunity early in the planning and EIS process for the public, organizations, and other agencies to suggest issues and alternatives that NPS planners could consider. The EIS will consider many options for winter use, including snowmobiles, snowcoaches, and wheeled vehicles. The EIS will evaluate the environmental effects of winter use on air quality and visibility, wildlife, natural soundscapes, employee and visitor health and safety, visitor experience, and socioeconomics.

Plowing has also been offered as a winter use alternative in the National Park Service winter plan proposals and it may be considered as planners develop what many hope will become a permanent winter plan.

You can submit your comments until March 30, 2010 at parkplanning.nps.gov/yell or mailed to Winter Use Scoping, Yellowstone National Park, P. O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190.

It would be interesting to see a breakdown of how many snowmobilers come to West Yellowstone specifically to head into Yellowstone, and how many come to West Yellowstone to snowmobile in the surrounding national forests and take a sidetrip into the park.

As for the economic impact a ban on snowmobiles would have on West Yellowstone, recent tax records show that revenues are flowing just nicely into the gateway communities even as snowmobile tallies declined in recent years.

Having lived in Gallatin County and also far away from it, having been to West Yellowstone countless times ... I think perhaps the people of West Yellowstone, Cody, and other Gateway communities in Yellowstone and perhaps everywhere else need just a bit of perspective. No one really gives a crap about their local economy; the more they holler about it, the more provincial they seem, and the less people care to support them on the issue.

It also doesn't help that Kurt's point is right - in general, West Yellowstone's economy hasn't suffered; no doubt, in particular - to those who depend on the industry, it seems to have (based on local reports). But, even if it were completely right, no one outside of these communities really cares if their economy goes up in smoke; if it comes at the expense of what gave rise to the economy in the first place, I have a strong sense that most people in the country at large would say, "Good riddance."

The argument of whether to plow Yellowstone in winter has many strong reasons behind it and some that aren't so strong, but one argument that needs to go by the wayside is the one that emphasizes the economic impact to the community. That's the one that works when crying to Max Baucus; it really doesn't work in trying to frame national opinion. What people ultimately care about is whether something is good for Yellowstone and the intended public purposes of Yellowstone.

I think the strongest argument for plowing is that the system in place now is really unfair, something that goes against the idea that Yellowstone is a public park for all the people ... not a winter wonderland reserved for the wealthy. However, there are other ways to deal with fairness than to plow the roads, which is no doubt why West Yellowstoners feel the need to emphasize the economics. But, ultimately, it is what's best for Yellowstone that will have to carry the day. And, plowing I doubt is it. The analogy with the north isn't really good - most of that area is the lowest in the park; often with the least amount of snow (been to Mammoth this winter???? or did winter forget Mammoth? It seems that way.) It probably wouldn't be plowed if not for Cooke City and Silver Gate (towns whose history suggest more troublemaking along the gateway). Is there really a reasonable analogy to that and say Sylvan Pass? Or the heavy snows in southern Yellowstone? Or, is this just a "plow Yellowstone from West to Old Faithful" idea?

I have an open mind and have been friendly to the plowing idea because it raises the critical issue of fairness, but I get irritated when it's framed in terms of salvation for West Yellowstone as a way to rise from the ashes of the crash of the snowmobile business. Can't we focus on what's right for Yellowstone? Because, sad to say it, but no one cares what's right first for your pockets. If it works out that way, wonderful ... but it can't be the driver, or else you will lose anyone outside that southern tip of our county.