The Battle Over Yellowstone Continues: Get Involved

It’s baa-aa-ack. Just when you thought the snowmobiles-in-Yellowstone issue was going away (OK, admit it, if you’ve been following this thing, you’ve NEVER thought the issue was going away), another list of proposals for winter access to Yellowstone National Park has been launched. Several of the proposals, of course, include banning you, I and all other snowmobile riders from this great American treasure.

The battle over access to Yellowstone National Park is worth the fight.

            A lot of people wonder “Why should I care” or say, “I’m never going there, it’s not my fight.” Well, if you care about access to all public land, it truly is your fight, because what happens there will affect access and trails in other parts of the country.

            The fight has been long, frustrating and it’s not going away anytime soon – or at least I HOPE it’s not going away anytime soon, because the only way it’s going to go away in the near future is if the haters win and just ban snowmobile access to the park.

            The worse part of the access battle is that it just defies logic. The people who are calling for an end to snowmobiles in the park are spewing bad statistics and lies to build a case that just isn’t there.

            Here is a link to a Billings Gazette article that outlines the six alternatives currently under discussion. It’s a very quick read and worth your time.  

            Below is the text of my <strong>Snow Goer</strong> column from our December 2009 issue, using the National Park Services own stats to debunk some of the arguments the extreme environmentalists use to say sleds should be banned from the park.

Feel free to pull anything you want out of the column if or when you write to your congress person or comment on the Yellowstone issue through the formal public comment period.

You should care, and it is your fight, too. Also, here’s a link to a photo essay put together by our Tom Kaiser, showing some of the beauty of Yellowstone that some folks are trying to lock us out of.

Stop The Misinformation

By John T. Prusak

“Great news,” the Minneapolis TV anchor gleefully reported. “In the month of July, Yellowstone National Park set a record when more than 900,000 people visited the park. The park also set an all-time high for June, when more than 644,000 people visited America’s first national park. Park officials attribute the boost to relatively low gas prices this summer.”

            Yep, things are looking up in Yellowstone – attendance records were being broken this past summer as people made their way through one of America’s treasures. The hotels and campgrounds in and around the park were packed – it was a great summer, local folks would tell you.

Sure enough, there’s only on thing that’s threatening this great piece of Americana – snowmobiles. Just look at the numbers.

Last winter, fewer than 33,000 snowmobiles entered the park over a four-month

period (all numbers in this piece are from the National Park Service). Those snowmobiles

were required to stay on the trail – a singular ribbon that takes visitors to and from Old


In fact, snowmobiles are allowed on less than 1 percent of the 2.2 million acres

of Yellowstone National Park, and only on strictly enforced, guided tours traveling on

best-available-technology snowmobiles.


            Moreover, combining snowmobiles, automobiles, snow coaches and any other means of travel, Yellowstone had 86,793 visitors from December through March last winter, but from May through October, it’ll have more than 2.7 million visitors, and the total for all of 2008 was 3,066,580.

            So, fewer than 3 percent of annual visitors enter in the four-month winter, and snowmobiles are the problem? During the summer, RVs, trucks, motorcycles, tour buses and passenger cars clog the roadways and fill the campgrounds. None of theses vehicles cause air pollution? None of these people litter?

In fact, we celebrate that many summer visitors in Yellowstone – press releases are written, newspapers rave about Americans getting back to nature, the talking heads gush. It’s as if each of those 900,000 July visitors were magically transported in vehicles that don’t require energy, none of the people ate, drank, had any bodily functions or encountered any animal. Instead, they somehow hovered above the park, and none saw each other – each person was on their own tiny island of peace and solitude.

            Yet one-tenth of that number entered the park over a four-month period last winter, and just 3.7 percent visited on snowmobile. Stated another way, in July the average daily visitors was 29,048. Last winter, an average of 205 snowmobiles per day entered the park.

And snowmobiles are the problem?

A Salt Lake Tribune editorial stated, “scientific research clearly indicates that snowmobiles … don’t mix well with wildlife and the quiet, pristine air and natural wonders that national parks are created to protect.” The Denver Post editors hoped further snowmobile restrictions or a ban can help restore “peace at one of America’s most special places.”

Quiet? Pristine? Peace? With 900,000 visitors in one month?

It’s time to stop the villianization of snowmobiles and snowmobilers. We cannot celebrate huge July attendance for Yellowstone while we decry a microfraction of that number making highly restricted visits on vehicles that get better fuel mileage than the RVs and SUVs that pack the park in the summer.

Yellowstone does not have a snowmobile problem – it has a perception problem, and the mainstream media is perpetuating a myth.

2 thoughts on “The Battle Over Yellowstone Continues: Get Involved

  • Avatar for

    Yellowstone is an American treasure that needs to be THOROUGHLY experienced and enjoyed by animals AND people!! Plus, business in Yellowstone is a good thing. The tax revenue generated helps maintain and preserve this magnificant park for future generations.

  • Avatar for Sean Kennedy

    Every year for the past 6 years, which is how long I’ve been a snowmobile enthusiast, I read article after article in various industry periodicals about the limiting of snowmobiles through the park during the season. It is as many of those snowmobile proponents have written, defiant of all things logical, to consider that snowmobiles have been and could be the great undoing of all things pristine and natural and beautiful in the park. If the research that suggests multiple millions of people cycle through the park each and every summer all arriving in vehicles that are considerably less clean in terms of total particulate emissions generated than nearly all new snowmobiles, not the just “best available technology” equipped is accurate, then limiting or banning snowmobiles is as unjustified as limiting winter boating traffic to America’s inland water ways for much the same reason. There is no difference to the landscape or animals winter vs. summer because of seasonality. The impact to the park and its natural inhabitants is directly related to the numbers of people visiting the park. If the concern is that of a total annual vehicular emissions value being exceeded when more than 318 snowmobiles a day enter the park then maybe there should be a movement to limit summer time guests in order to provide winter enthusiasts an equal opportunity to experience the park on their terms. After all, it is as much our park to enjoy as it is the summer visitors. I would go so far as to argue that the concern snowmobilers have for the environment is so much more acute than the average summer picnic people, if those that would have us banned actually looked at who we and how we care for the areas and inhabitants of the lands on which we ride, they would likely prefer us over the summer folk! Let’s be realistic, there will never be the type of winter traffic that there is in the summer, so even if there were no restriction on numbers of sledders in to the park, other than a two or three year initial surge of winter time guests, it would most likely average to less than 1000 per day. The park could seize the opportunity that more visitors bring to increase trails and fees while maintaining control in the form of continuing guided tours. I would submit that with all of the incredible western snowmobile destinations have to offer, not having free reign to ride anywhere in the park is not an objection to me and likely not for the vast majority of the snowmobile community. Is there really no legislator willing to take a serious look at this debate and can we not as an organized community appeal the restrictions to those in Washington with a strong sense that the current limitations will be abandoned in favor of a more constitutionally consistent set of winter guidelines?


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