Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park has become a tradition for many. What started in the 1960’s with a few snow coaches and snowmobiles has turned into a heated battle over whether or not snowmobiles should be unrestricted or banned. It has been to court several times with no finite conclusion reached.
Unrestricted snowmobile access to Yellowstone National Park has not been allowed since the 1990’s. Those who favor unrestricted access claim that the park was constructed for the use and enjoyment of the public. Snowmobiling opens up many areas of the park that are not normally accessible in winter. Proponents of unrestricted access state that the area will suffer economic hardships if restrictions are imposed.
Since the 1990’s, access to Yellowstone National Park by snowmobile has been restricted in one form or another. Limiting access was necessary to protect the wildlife and the park staff. Prior to restricting access, gas masks were issued to park employees who sat at the entrance booths because the cloud of exhaust fumes from the older style, 2 cycle engines was causing health issues.
The park has further regulations on snowmobiles. It only allows the newer, cleaner 4 cycle engines into the park. This technology is known as BAT or Best Available Technology.
The 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 winter season has tough restrictions on snowmobiles. The regulations state that only 318 commercially guided BAT snowmobiles are allowed into the park per day. 78 snow coaches per day are also allowed. All snowmobiles traveling in the park must be with a guide.
The park also allows snowmobile travel through Sylvan Pass from the east gate.
These regulations are only temporary and they expire at the end of the 2010-2011 winter season. If another plan is not put into place prior to the expiration of the current regulations, no snowmobile traffic or snow coach traffic will be permitted in the park after the 2010-2011 winter season. The ban on snowmobiles and snow coaches in Yellowstone National Park would occur upon expiration due to the fact that snowmobiles and snow coaches are not allowed in National Parks unless there is a policy in place with the park specifically governing snowmobile access.
The park is concerned about the impact of snowmobile traffic on the park’s environment and wildlife. Yellowstone National Park is a unique place. Wintertime in Yellowstone offers a chance to head out onto the snowshoe and cross country ski trails where visitors can experience true silence. Excessive snowmobile and snow coach traffic has a negative impact on visitors who enjoy the peacefulness of the wilderness by snowshoe and skis.
Wildlife is negatively impacted by the traffic of snowmobiles. Bison in particular, are at a great risk. A situation sometimes occurs called Bison Ping-Pong. This is when an individual or group of bison are caught between two groups of snowmobiles and the animals run back and forth similar to a ping pong game. This causes the bison to lose precious body fat. Loss of fat in winter is a death sentence for the bison. Yellowstone is known for the wild bison herds, loss of the bison would be disastrous for the park.
Destruction of the park’s natural beauty is another issue of concern. Some snowmobiles do not obey park rules and guidelines resulting in damage to environmentally sensitive areas, trails, and park features by the snowmobiles.
The Park Service has a difficult road ahead. Trying to balance public enjoyment of the park through the use of snowmobiles and snow coaches with environmental and wildlife concerns is a tough balancing act. Unrestricted access will never again be allowed, however the park seems to be open to some limited snowmobile use. If you are concerned about the snowmobile issues at Yellowstone Park contact the park service at 307-344-2019.
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