Paging Markos! Yellowstone has about one month between the end of snowcoach/snowmobile season in mid March and the start of auto travel season in mid April. During that window, the park is open to very brave people on nonmotorized vehicles. The park's website warns of no services, no water, no cel phone coverage, and carry your own bicycle repair kit, as "the cleared section of the road may be narrow and covered with a layer of snow and ice." Oh, and stay 100 yards away from wolves and grizzlies, heading for lower elevations and looking for something to eat.
Hmmm. I'm all for outdoor adventures whenever possible, but there are limits.
As spring arrives in Yellowstone, today is the last day to comment on Yellowstone's winter plan. Focusing on motorized winter use (not bicycles), the plan will guide the Park Service beginning in 2011. Prior park plans have generated substantial controversy on the issue of snowmobiles vs. snowcoaches. This year, the debate has a third player: should the park plow to let private autos enter the park?
For anyone who hasn't followed the snowmobiles-in-Yellowstone debate, it's long -- one district court judge handling the cases noted that his involvement began in 1997 and has continued nearly without pause to 2008. For years, a small group of West Yellowstone businesses has pushed for snowmobiles (photo credit: Yellowstone Snowmobile Tours). All three Republican members of the Wyoming Congressional delegation have wholeheartedly supported them. The rest of America -- scientists, retired NPS employees, and 94% of the American public -- wants the snowmobiles gone. Thus, litigation. This year Yellowstone has operated under an interim plan, limiting the number of snowmobiles in the park to 318/day (Republicans want far more) while an interim plan (comment period closing tonight! see link below) is developed.
This year, West Yellowstone commerce has a new twist: plow all of the park's roads for automobile traffic.
Plow Yellowstone makes an intriguing case for economic equity, job creation, and carbon emission reduction (three things that I normally favor). Snowcoaches (perceived as less environmentally damaging than snowmobiles) charge $100 or more per visitor, as do snowmobiles. Visitors entering the park by car would simply pay $25 for a 7 day park entry fee, so more ordinary Americans can afford to visit. Opening up most of the park to visitors means jobs being created at hotels and restaurants in the park. Snowcoaches also get 1 to 4 miles per gallon, making them worse than even the gas-hoggiest H2, so auto travel might emit less greenhouse gas emissions, on balance. Other national parks, notably Yosemite, are plowed during the winter.
On the other hand, plowing Yellowstone would have significant downsides. The park states that snow plowing sucks up fuel (4 pg pdf). Berms created by snowplows might be difficult for animals to navigate. And one likes to think that the animals deserve some time off from contact with most humans.
No consensus has developed in West Yellowstone, the town most likely to benefit from plowing. Curiously, neither Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) nor Mike Enzi (R-WY), both vocal adherents of snowmobiles-as-economic-saviors-of-West-Yellowstone, has spoken up.
FWIW, although I like to visit Yosemite in the winter (and just did!), on balance I'm opposed to plowing Yellowstone during the winter. Despite the clever arguments, I see this as a classic case of benefiting people while burdening the ecosystem.
That's just my opinion, though, and your thoughts are just as important as mine. You can comment. Tonight at midnight Eastern time is the last day to do so, beginning at this link. Browse first in the official library and toolkit if desired first. Voting in my poll is for fun, but commenting is part of the democratic process.