Yellowstone Park is slowly shutting down for the winter
By Ralph Maughan On October 1, 2008 · 23 Comments · In Yellowstone National Park
The roads all close (except the North Entrance) Nov. 3 at 8 AM.
Complete story. Parts of Yellowstone closing up for winter. By The Billings Gazette Staff
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
23 Responses to Yellowstone Park is slowly shutting down for the winter
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My favorite season in the park is here, October is the best!
The park service says they are trying to find alternatives to closing. I am sure I don’t know what they could do other than having the access they already have to cars, between Gardner and Cooke City.
I am camped in the Slough Creek Campground here in Yellowstone. The weather has been summerlike and warm.
Slough Creek is one the few campgrounds still open and it fills each day before noon. There are large numbers of visitors still in the park and campers are having a hard time finding campsite space. The Park Service seems locked into its’ pre-ordained schedule and closes campgrounds with no
thought of the inconvenience to the many visitors who would like to use the park in the fall. They do the same thing with their road closures.
They cry “Lack of Funds”, but the only expense in this campground is sending someone to check on the toilet paper supply and pick up the campground fees from the deposit container. There is no campground host on duty and the camp is full every day. I am sure the same situation exists in the much larger Mammoth Camprground, only there are more fees to pick up.
The motto here seems to be “Welcome to Yellowstone, now please go home.”
I think that if the park closes to winter use, they will expand their current schedlues. But they could only do it for a matter of a few weeks at best.
Though it is sunny now, that could change in an instant. The problem is that these campers are not always well prepared or very skilled. One storm could put them in a dangerous situation, causing them to be stranded, and fressing. Roads due shut down quickly when storm occur as there is often large accumulations of snow in short periods of time. Thus, theroads become impassable and do take some time to clear.
I have been there in mid-summer and woken to six inches of snow. One June I helped some people get help that had carbon-monoxide poisoning from using a heater when it got too cold at night.
Last October I was there and storms closed roads. So many people who had been camped were running for the hotels. Had the storm moved in faster, it could have been very bad. The further into the fall you go, the more likelyhood that something bad will occur.
Though winter use is quite a valuable experience for many, without some park regulated transportation , travel to any place other than the Lamar via the road in a car, will be impossible.
Skiers will still be a go, but they may even have to end that withoutthe ability to use snowmobiles for any tpe of search and rescue. Anyone know if this ban includes park rescuers on snowmachines too?
About the officials using snow machines in the park…
First, rest assured that they would certainly be used for official search and rescues operations as well as other necessary tasks and obligations. It is the only rapid transportation other than snowcoaches and grooming machines that can deal with the snow covered roads.
They could, theoretically, plow the roads into certain attractions but some places are far too extreme for winter travel, like Dunraven Pass. But then, that also involves great expense in fuel and personnel costs. Heavy equipment and skilled groomer operators and mechanics don’t come cheap and the road conditions would be ever-changing regardless of any program for road maintainence. This is one harsh environment and machines break often under winter conditions.
The Park Service employees depend on snowmobiles, with trailer-sleds too, to get to town for provisions in winter so I would imagine that they would continue to use them for official uses.
But then too, what about giving the forests and animals a break from US when survival conditions are difficult? Nature isn’t a 24/7 TV show available on demand.
If you are reading the news, the Park Service is going to be submitting a plan by the middle of next month for temporary winter use, including snowmobiles and snow machines.
We should expect snowmobiles to be allowed in the park, if for no other reason than that the environmental groups that have been fighting this have called for a temporary plan at about the daily average for last year (290 snowmobiles). So, that’s a wink that there won’t be a lawsuit if that limit is temporarily set.
Don’t get me started speculating what’s causing all of this.
At the same time, there was fascinating news out of a court yesterday dealing with the Gallatin motorized use plan – another big court win. Check out today’s Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
The park super has the say so, on the use of snow machines as she does with pretty much everything, there are provisions in the rules that allows the super of the park to oversee and over rule on various items, I am sure that the winter employees will again be using snow mobiles for travel.
Why would the nps need winter employees if there was no snowmobiling? Before snowmobiling created a bureaucratic empire, the nps didn’t have employees in the park interior during the winter–just seasonals to guard the gates. In the early stages of snowmobiling (70s) there was one (1) ranger at Lake, one (1) ranger at Canyon, etc. Saying Yellowstone needs employees in the interior in winter is like saying Glacier Park needs year round nps rangers at Many Glacier or Two Medicine. No snowmobiles in Glacier, no rangers in Glacier’s interior during winter.
Environmental lawyers and govt lawyers appear to disagree on the legal power of the superintendent of Yellowstone or any other national park to allow snowmobiling.
They do need patrol along the Gardiner to Cooke City highway and US 191.
They also need aircraft patrol of illegal snowmobile entry into the backcountry. This is usually on the west side just south of West Yellowstone.
Ralph–you’re right that the nps needs winter employees to keep illegal bubbleheads on snowmobiles out of the park. What I’m saying is that you can make huge reductions to the size of the nps staff in the park once you stop pandering to snowmobiles. Think about the “warming huts.” They’re for snowmobilers who get cold. People riding in snowcoaches are warm; they want to get out and walk around. They don’t need or want warming huts. Make several “little” changes like this and it would quickly add up to millions of dollars spent on nps staff and resources that cater to snowmobilers and/or pimp for snowmobilers. We’re using helicopters to drop bombs on Sylvan Pass for snowmobilers. The nps has wasted more than $10 million on winter use studies when we all knew from the get-go the nps was going to ignore the studies and promote snowmobiling/bureaucracy. It’s all been a farce, as is the current “study”
I don’t think so. The ruling limits the use period. The NPS doesn’t get to decide what the courts have ruled upon. They merely get to regulate within the law.
Atleast that is what one of my patients ( an attorney) tells me.
I am sure they’ll think of something though, as Uncle Sam obviously makes $ on winter use, or owuld have discontinued it a while ago.
I would think that park employees would still be allowed use (biologist, patrols, etc.). I just wonder to what extent they can fluctuate or bend the regs.
yes, there are provisions for the super to do basically what they want..
Remember I worked in this system for many years, if the super deems it needed, then it will happen..
If you want to see an example of this, look up the laws and rules on bear spray! even though it is a chemical agent, that is PROHIBITED in the National Park System, the super’s of the parks that it is needed, have over ruled the laws and regulations to allow it to be carried..
Dave Smith, had an article about this in his blog a few months ago..
In the Jackson Hole News, park spokesman Al Nash said, “I’ve heard different individuals continue to suggest that the superintendents have the authority to issue some kind of order to provide some kind of motorized over snow access this winter,” he said. “I continue to encourage them to read the code of federal regulations. The regulations are very clear there is a valid rule which says that the authority to authorize snowmobile or snow coach access in the parks expired at the end of the 2006-07 season.”
“The superintendents do not have the authority to issue an order contrary to a rule,” Nash said.
[Perhaps superintendents have the power to allow bear spray, but not snowmobiles? When Save Bears says he worked in the system, I don’t know if that means he worked in the nps solicitors office, or as a seasonal garbage man at Old Faithful. As for superintendents deeming that bear spray is “needed,” bear spray is “wanted” might be a better way of putting it. Dave Smith, Doug Peacock, the Craighead brothers, and many other bear folks managed to survive without bear spray. Photographer Jim Cole was a staunch advocate for bear spray and always carried it–a lot of good it did him. Or the bears he harassed.]
Big differences bewteen a can of bear spray and five hundred snowmobiles, in terms of damage, longevity of damage, and cost to the NPS.
Without a doubt, I’d say that a super who directly violates legislation is just as culpable as you or I would be if we did. Violating the law is violating the law. Period. No matter who does it. Just ask Oli North.
Give me a break . I am camping here in the park and most of my neighbors are fishermen, wildlife photographers and people without children that are quite competent campers. They are quite capable of handling a little bad weather.
We have been overwhelmed today with people looking for a place to camp in our already full campground. The YP administration needs to wake up and keep camps like Pebble Creek, Norris,and Tower Falls campgrounds open until the snow forces their closure. I have talked to several fellow campers about the situation and all agree that the YP administration makes it difficult to for visitors to camp in the park. They agree with me that the park entrance sign should say: “Welcome To Yellowstone, Now Please Go Home.”
Come on! You cannot be naive enough to compare today’s weather with the park’s potential for change, and average winter weather. It is not even close to a valid comparison.
You would be tempting fate to keep campgrounds open until you absolutely had to close because of snow. Are you going to tell me that you or anyone can accurately predict the weather and snowfall inch by inch in YNP for each possible storm? The degree of variability from one spot in the park to the next is enormously different. I’m not buying.
The changes are sudden and can be (often are) dramatic. You aren’t just dealing with an inch of powder. There can be ice, many inches of heavy snow over night, wind, white outs. It isn’t the “little bit of bad weather” that would be an issue. (Like I said, it snows in summer.) It is the potential for much worse.
Now if you are saying they should stay open longer, fine. But how long? And can you assure the safety of all the campers? It can’t be done in the most hospitable weather conditions, let alone winter in YNP. “A little bad weather”? Ha! How do you see YNP in winter? Sunny days on sandy beaches with moderate overnight temps? I doubt those fishermen would be camping there in December. Most of those I know go fishing into October, and then they are done. No ice fishing in YNP.
FYI, the campgrounds you reference fill up quickly until they close for the season-yes. But they fill that quickly no matter when you go. The alternative would be having a campground every fifty feet in the Lamar all summer long then.
I’m not saying close everything, but you have to consider the safety of people when playing roulette with Mother Nature.
As far as accomodating people, the amount of lodging and camping inside the park is, and will remain with any good luck, much more limited than that of gate communities. That is for various reasons, including maintaing habitat.
I was there last October (mid) and in May. Both times the park had a mass exodus of campers due to weather. The Bridge Bay camprgound had empty tents every where in May, collapsing from the snow, and sleet. People were sleeping in cars. And I know many were just as experienced as those around you now.
In October, there were road closures (including early closure of Dunraven) and the store at Canyon lost power. It was a few days before they had enough open for us to go back home through the park. We were nearing a huge detour to get home…
I’m all for being able to enjoy the park as much as possible, but not if it puts people at a greater risk.
I did not say commercial use, I said that the super has the ability to allow her employee’s to use snowmobiles in the park during the winter, that has nothing to do with 500 snowmobiles, we are talking about two entirely different things here, the super does not have the power to overrule on commercial use, but she does have the administrative authority to allow her employees to use them…that was the only thing I was talking about….as I said before, I could really care less if there are sleds in the park or not…
Gottcha, I hadn’t realized you were only directing park employee use! We are on the same page.
My concern with the snowmachines is more along the lines of pullutants, interference with animals-though he noise may be minimal since they are so used to cars, diesels etc.-they may enjoy the break from human noises.
I also have some concerns about reports that bison use the tracks to folllow out of the park. More needs to be researched there, we need to know what pros and cons there are.
Anyone have any thoughts on snow coaches?
Frankly, I don’t like them, either. They pollute – though I read conflicting things about the degree of pollution. But, what I really don’t like is that it contributes to the monopolization of access in the parks, making the winter park (outside the northern part) a fiefdom for the rich.
But, I wonder what others think.
I refuse, personally, to ride them – even if I could afford them and am a little dismayed at groups like GYC supporting them as an environmentally sound alternative. I’d probably have less problem with the roads being plowed for cars – at least where possible – than I would with continuing this snow coach regime. But, either way you do it, you continue to create lanes for bison to leave the park without providing lanes for them to retreat off the roads. That snow gets high, and when the bison calve, I’ve seen where they can get stuck on the road.
I’d love to see the park simply for skiers and snowshoers or perhaps the really hardy road snow bicyclist (but as it stands now, bicycles have been turned back during the motorized season).
But, my opinions just aren’t as passionately strong as some people when it comes to this issue – I can’t get excited about it the way I do more direct wildlife management and economic class issues (and I know even fewer care about the latter when it comes to national parks). So, I’m curious what others think.
I think snowcoaches are a pretty good option compared to snowmobiles. In addition, natural history, Park history, conservation can be added to the trip (and it is right now by some outfitters).
Plowing the roads would require a large ranger/support staff throughout the winter and suck up a lot energy (more than the snowcoaches, I think).
I expect the plowed roads would both facilitate bison movement out of the Park and also erect some surprising barriers to other wintering wildlife.
Plowing the roads would essentially create “tunnels;” a narrow 2 lane road with walls on snow on either side rather than shoulders. Buffalo, elk, and other critters would get on the road at thermal areas where there isn’t much snow, then walk down the road to places where the snow is 3-6 foot deep on each side of the road. They get trapped in the road, and here come the tourists and park employees in their cars and SUVs. Now the critters get herded along the road until they come to a low spot in the wall where they can escape. Depending on snow conditions, wildlife might get pushed down the road for 50 yards, or 5 miles.
I am not for plowing and allowing car’s in the winter, and agree with Chuck 100% your going to create situations that would cause a lot of stress to the animals, and we all know how harsh winter is to begin with, then throw in the stress of being chased down a narrow road with high walls..not a good thing at all..
What about the North to Northeast Entrance road to Cooke City? Should we call for abandoning those towns and closing that part of the park to vehicular traffic in the winter? I’m curious what people think. Of course, this gets at a lot of ethical questions, but I’m truly just curious where people are.
As for grooming roads either for snow coaches or snowmobiles or plowing for cars, it seems to be a rotten deal for animals (though I read that the science was not well established on migration patterns with or without plowing). My suggestion that plowing might be better than grooming comes from my concern that if you are going to mess things up, you might as well do it in an equitable way – and not make it only accessible to the rich. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t plow or groom, and certainly grooming as opposed to plowing certainly reduces numbers. But, then, I’d support anything to make access via snow coach affordable.
I get very concerned when environmentalists don’t think of class (or in some parts of the country – race – among my old friends in DC, a lot of community organizers and activists considered a lot of environmentalism to be racist because there was often little regard for taking care of people most hurt by environmental regulations. Because of sheer geography, Yellowstone is already relatively inaccessible to most poor people. I worry about anything that makes it inaccessible to all people of certain economic classes – even those who live near by. When the snowmobile lobby fights on the access issue, I usually have no sympathy because they don’t represent poor people. However, that doesn’t mean that the rhetoric they use is completely without weight. And, when I think of the way snow coaches are used – machines that are still belching out all kinds of pollution – and are restricted to the rich, then something doesn’t sit right at all.
I have read the National Park Service would groom roads to Old Faithful no matter what because of employee access. However, if they didn’t, I’d be a happy camper. If they are going to and are going to let people in, then the equity issues need to be dealt with first of all because Yellowstone is supposedly a public treasure (not restricted only to certain kinds of people) and because not treating it as such lends more credence to the charge that environmentalists are actually in league with only the upper classes of society – and only those with a particular view of what Yellowstone should be.
I’ve written about Yellowstone and class issues over the years, probably because I saw how class played out very keenly from my years back in the 1990s working at Hamilton Stores, but also because I’ve done some work trying to give support to homeless communities, perhaps because I grew up poor. But, it’s also because it seems so antithetical to what we believe about Yellowstone. We value Yellowstone as a place where the animals and the land are in theory held up in higher regard than humans normally would do so – yet, how strange it is to manage it and protect it on a model where we continue to treat human beings as unequals.
So, I get concerned when GYC – a group I have no respect for on the bison or the wolf issue – supports snow coaches as is as an environmentally sound alternative. If it is good to let people in Yellowstone, then we have to consider it also in that context.
But, as some are suggesting, perhaps it’s not good at all. That’s why I also wonder about the road in the north, a road I like to use in the winter myself and hope to again this winter – so long as someone is plowing it.