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May 10, 2011 7:22 am

EDITORIAL: Snowmobile issues broaden

Written by Ilene Olson

For years now, the subject of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park has been a divisive one. While many winter recreationists favor allowing as many snowmobilers into the park during the winter as possible, some environmentalists want to see them banned entirely.

The National Park Service has tried repeatedly to strike a balance between the two in its planning efforts for winter use in the park.

The service’s latest attempt was released last week in a draft winter use plan. That plan would vary the number of snowmobiles allowed in the park daily. On peak days, the plan would allow up to 330 guided snowmobiles in the park daily; at other times, it would allow only 110 snowmobiles per day.

In a new strategy, snowmobile permits at the various park entrances could be traded as needed.

Even as the Park Service begins accepting comments on this latest winter use plan proposal, debate over wintertime travel on another Wyoming/Montana highway is heating up.

U.S. 212 from Cody to Cooke City, Mont., is sometimes labeled an orphan highway, with federal, state and county governments unwilling to plow eight miles of the highway during the winter. Those eight miles are all that stand between motorists and a winter route between Cody, Cooke City and Yellowstone, and some say, greater winter economic development opportunities in both cities and in both states.

However, that eight-mile section of highway also comprises part of the Beartooth Trail, used by snowmobilers in both Wyoming and Montana. Plowing the highway, those snowmobilers say, would interrupt the trail and cause economic harm instead.

Adding to that controversy are fears on both sides of the border that plowing the highway could prompt the federal government to discontinue plowing the route from Cooke City to Mammoth for vehicles, further limiting public access to Yellowstone in the winter.

Commissioners for Park County, Wyo., and Park County, Mont., plan to meet May 20 with officials from Yellowstone, the Shoshone and Gallatin national forests and both states’ highway departments to begin more formal discussions on the issue.

While the Yellowstone winter use plan and the proposal to plow U.S. 212 are separate issues, there is no doubt they are intertwined, and any decisions reached in either case will affect us. That being the case, it behooves us to stay informed and voice our opinions accordingly.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link May 11, 2011 7:01 am posted by Salty Dawg

    This is a no brainer...why should a select group of people be allowed to take over a road at the expense of others who can not afford these expensive toys.I see trailer loads of expensive snow machines every winter around here,along with these same trailer loads of ATV's in summer,so it is obvious what brand of people are doing this,it sure isn,t local working folks who earn peanuts in this area.Then business owners moan about local shopping in Billings...the Roman Empire fell the same way with the same kind of greed.Plow the road so ALL can use it,or else let no one use it winter.Fair is fair.

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