For nearly 10 years, the rules governing winter access to Yellowstone National Park have been a work in progress. Groups wanting to eliminate all winter traffic have battled businesses that once thrived on unlimited park access. Park service officials have been stuck in the middle.
As winter approaches, a final plan is being prepared for managing winter use for the future of Yellowstone Park.
Once upon a time, anyone with a snowmobile could visit Yellowstone. In those days snowmobiles were noisy and left clouds of pollution in their wakes.
Clyde Seeley owns the Three Bears in West Yellowstone.
"Then when the restrictions came in that cut some of these businesses out so that they close up in the winter, but the thing that saved winter access, I believe in the park, was the four-stroke snowmobile. We were on the driving forces to help that happen," he said.
Snow coaches are heading in that same direction. However access is controlled; 318 snowmobiles and 78 snowcoaches per day is the cap. Randy Roberson runs both in Yellowstone.
"As far as the caps are concerned that has not been a problem, but the uncertainty has been one of the dynamics of our business models over the last eight years. Not only wondering about the inter use plan but things are changing," he said.
Geographically speaking, Yellowstone National Park is halfway between the tropics and the tundra. When it come to a winter use plan that balances the needs of the resources of Yellowstone National Park with the needs of the business community in the surrounding areas, you might say Yellowstone is stuck in the middle of that too.
"Balancing our role of protecting what is special about Yellowstone and providing visitors a chance to experience that special nature in this special place colors everything we do in Yellowstone. But we really are looking for a way to share what is special about Yellowstone in the winter and protect this place," according to Yellowstone’s Al Nash.
Yellowstone will soon finalize a plan for winter use. Those on the outside hope to see an increase in numbers allowed and they know there’s only one way to get that increase.
Seeley says the answer is technology.
"The ray of hope we have of increasing visitation in the park is improving technology."
Nash agrees, but says technology has to improve greatly over what we have today.
"We would expect that this is a plan that would last a dozen years or more before we’d revisit it. You know, we’d have to have some significant technological changes from the current or short term expectations to warrant re-opening this debate," Nash said.
December 15 is considered the start of the winter season for Yellowstone. Yellowstone will release its final regulations before next season.