Yellowstone's wintertime blues

  • More than 1,000 snowmobiles entered the park one Sat.

    Greater Yellowstone Coalition

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, A park boss goes to bat for the land.

Summer visitors aren't the only ones on the increase in Yellowstone: the number of tourists arriving to see Yellowstone's ice-crusted trees, virginal snowfields and clouds of hot-spring steam are skyrocketing as well. Four winters ago, the number of visitors soared to a level officials had not expected until the year 2000. Parking areas, roads, warming huts and restrooms are often jammed, employees at the popular west entrance are choking on snowmobile exhaust (HCN, 4/1/96) while cross-country skiers - whose quietness doesn't warn animals of their approach - can disrupt elk herds. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and some visitors think there should be a cap on wintertime visits.

A winter-use planning team, comprised of officials from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks as well as five surrounding national forests, just finished holding a series of public meetings in communities around the park. To minimize grandstanding on this touchy issue, they used an open-house format. The strategy did not play well in Jackson, Wyo., where a crowd of several hundred snowmobile enthusiasts booed the federal officials loudly. Even so, Paul Hoffman, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, was encouraged. The public is not used to hearing federal officials ask, "What do you think?" he told the Cody Enterprise.

The winter-use debate can be seen as a skirmish before the main battle to determine a human carrying capacity for Yellowstone Park. By the time the whole process - including more public meetings - has concluded, park superintendent Michael Finley hopes it will be clear that, "We didn't sit here like a bunch of arrogant feds. We listened to what people had to say."

For more information about winter use, write: Planning Office, Greater Yellowstone Winter Visitor Use Management, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190.

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