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Know the West

Motorheads sue over park’s seasons

Proposal would keep snowmobiles humming year-round


WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Snowmobile rental businessmen in the busiest gateway town to Yellowstone National Park face the traumatic change of seasons from winter to spring, and they’re expressing their outrage over it. "This is a real blow to the local economy," says Ernest X. Haust, owner of Parkland RPMs, a rental shop that has a fleet of 2,650 snowmobiles for rent to tourists.

The warmer weather is melting the accumulated snowpack, making it harder for tourists on treads to blast into the park and the surrounding national forests. So Haust and the other snowmobile barons that run this town are calling for the Bush administration to deliver new loads of snow in specially insulated semi-trucks.

"We pay our taxes. The federal government should use some of that money to haul in snow from Alaska or Northern Canada," Haust says. "Our snowmobiling season should run year-round." The onset of springtime amounts to a "taking" — a violation of personal property rights as spelled out by the U.S. Constitution, the snowmobile businessmen complain.

"We have a constitutional right to make money on snow," says Rod DeRumm, owner of Yellowstone Heritage Motorsports, which has a fleet of 4,930 snowmobiles for rent. "And the tourists have a right to drive snowmobiles in the park," a right affirmed by the Bush administration’s reversal of a Clinton-era ban on the machines.

"The snowmobile manufacturers, all the drivers and riders, and all the related businesses made campaign contributions and voted for Bush, with the goal of achieving year-round snow," says DeRumm. "Now it's time for the follow-through."

It’s technologically feasible, says Gawn Deaph, executive director of the Fill ’er Up Coalition, which lobbies for maximum personal freedom and profit-making for motorized recreation on the public lands. Gigantic dragline shovels used in coal strip mines could be moved to the Arctic Circle to scoop up millions of tons of snow, loading caravans of Styrofoam-lined 18-wheel trucks, Deaph says. "Or we could use lasers to slice off glaciers in the north and haul them here by rail, wrapped in huge space blankets. Then we could cut them into 4-by-8-foot sheets of ice to line the snowmobile routes. The glaciers are melting anyway, so we may as well put them to use while they last."

Eventually a refrigeration system should be installed under snowmobile routes in the park, and snowmaking pipelines and spray nozzles should be installed mile by mile, from West Yellowstone to the popular Old Faithful geyser, DeRumm says. "We’re simply extending the idea the downhill ski businessmen got a while ago. We can’t let the weather stop us from enjoying nature."

The chief administration official in charge of the park, Secretary of Interior Gail Norton, says the project would be carefully weighed by a massive environmental impact study, and then the Park Service would be ordered to go along with this demand also. "We have a process that works," Norton says. Environmental groups threaten to file a lawsuit if the Bush administration begins delivering snow and refrigerating Yellowstone National Park during the spring, summer and fall.

"We believe the seasons in the park should continue as they were for Native Americans centuries ago," says Jennifer Yaley, executive director of the Yellowstone Preservation League. "Our lawyers also go year-round. We will fight this until hell freezes over. Maybe I shouldn’t mention that possibility. I don’t want to give those guys any more ideas."

The author, a freelance writer, spends half the year sipping espresso in Seattle and the other half communing with the spirits in a fire tower in Idaho. April Fools!