Yellowstone National Park Scoping for New Long Term Winter Use Plan Begins

Should the Park road from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful be plowed?

Earlier today “Salle” posted in our new  “Have you run across any interesting news” section her views and a large number of links relating to this important (if judged by the huge amount of litigation) set of rules for using Yellowstone in the winter. There is an interesting view that rather than snowmobiles/snowcoaches, maybe it would be better to plow from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful in the winter. This would be similar to the long-standing plowing of the road from Mammoth Hot Springs out the northeast entrance of the Park to Cooke City, MT.

At any rate, an entire new set of rule-making for Yellowstone winter use is about to begin.

I thought it was an important enough news story to bring in as a “regular” post. Ralph Maughan
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“Salle” wrote on Feb. 5, 2010 at 8:29 AM

This past week Yellowstone NP has opened up for comments on winter use in the park. Recently there was a decrease in oversnow travel limits for the next two winters while this issue is addressed, once again. A big concern for the general public is that only those who can ~$150/person/day can go in to enjoy the park during winter, unless you are near the north entrance and can only go to Lamar Valley area between Mammoth Hot Springs and Cooke City. The rest of the park is only open to oversnow travel at the price noted above.

There is a massive decline in business activity for the gate communities and the only businesses that have any business to speak of are the (less than a dozen) permitees who facilitate oversnow travel.

Many, including some park officials, have been pushing for the park to just plow the road during the winter. Such a plan includes plowing from the west gate to Madison jct; Madison jct. to Old Faithful and to Mammoth HS. this would allow the general public to enter the park year round and with the regular fees that apply during the summer months. It also allows the general public to get to Old faithful and the northern sector in a couple hours rather than a five hour drive, one way, from the west gate – the major entrance to the park.

It’s every citizen’s park, please take a few minutes to voice your thoughts on the manner and cost of your ability to visit this wonderful place.

Here is the info on the YNP winter use public comment stuff from the YNP web site AND Doug Edgerton’s (a West Yellowstone business owner and advocate for plowing) oped in the West Yellowstone News this week.

Main issue page:

Four page newsletter: pdf

Comment materials:


Edgerton’s OpEd:



  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I would like to see the park plow the roads. They close the roads based on a certain time of the year, not on road conditions. The roads in the interior of the park were essentially bare and dry when they closed them in the fall the past two years. I can’t afford the $150/day (Or More)snowmobile charges and thus myself and many others are excluded from using the park during the winter months.

  2. izabelam Avatar

    I would love to travel to Yellowstone in the winter and not to pay 100 for the snowcoach.
    And West Yellowstone needs some business. It is ready dead there in the winter.

  3. Salle Avatar

    I hope that you will voice these thoughts to the park officials as well. I think that it would be a good idea to plow the roads and allow regular, personal vehicles in year-round. The west entrance would be my entry point and I would like to get to Lamar during the winter but it’s a very long drive to go around and enter at Gardiner. I pay for an annual park pass but can only use it during the summer season. Seems like it isn’t such a bargain when you look at the length of time during that year that I can actually use it. I certainly can’t afford the snowcoach and have no interest in riding snowmobiles. My friends who live in the gate communities tell me that work is very hard to find and there are only a few year-round jobs, most of which require that you actually own the business where you are employed.

    As I said in my write-up ~ sorry for the typos ~ it’s every citizen’s park and we should have affordable access to it, even in the winter. Since the park relies on gate fees, one would think that they would welcome the flow of visitors during the winter.

  4. Leslie Avatar

    Well I would like them to plow the 11 miles of orphan road between Cooke City and WY border. Forget all that blasting for avalanches on Sylvan Pass which is very dangerous and so few people use the Cody entrance for snowmobiling (no snow coaches are available there anyways) compared to the costs.

    Hwy. 296 was paved with the intentions of that road being plowed in the winter to unlock Cooke City. Cody should just get behind this as its good for their business, instead of constantly getting behind the insane idea that people are coming to Cody in the winter to snowmobile into the Park. Its just not happening. More people would use the route over Dead Indian into the Lamar.

    One note on this is that I know for a fact that people living in Gardiner do not want to see this road plowed because it would mean more traffic on the Lamar road. On the other hand, people in Cooke City would surely like it and have been trying for years to get the state to plow that road. I live in Sunlight and have no ability to get into the Park in the winter. I would have to go up to Billings and around, a very very long drive. OR I could ski or snowmobile to Cooke City but then again I’m stuck because that road is plowed. With no car at Cooke City how can I get around? Its very frustrating.

  5. Jon Way Avatar

    I personally like the idea of plowing the west side. Even though I spend most of my winter visits in the Lamar/Tower area I would certainly visit the West Yellowstone & Old Faithful/Upper geyser basin area if I had the opportunity to.

  6. TallTrent Avatar

    I have one major concern with plowing the roads from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful and to Mammoth Hot Springs and it is the effect that snow berms can have on wildlife travel. When bison leave Yellowstone to head to Horse Butte they have to cross Hwy 191 north of West Yellowstone. Bison often get caught along the side of the road and in the ditches when we have a typical snow year because the berms get to be so high. I suspect we’d have similar issues in Yellowstone, particularly on the road to Old Faithful. It is a different climate in the western part of Yellowstone than in the Lamar Valley & Mammoth Hot Springs area with significantly more snow fall and it is more likely to cause these sorts of problems than what is seen on the currently plowed northern road.

  7. Salle Avatar

    Inside the park they use snow auger/blowers for the really deep snow, like they use in the town of West Yellowstone, there isn’t much snowbank like you see along Hwy 191. Aside from that, when they do use plows, the snow is also “thrown” and more widely distributed with a lesser snowbank effect. And in the Old Faithful area, in particular, there is a rather high ground temp which melts most of the snow off the road. I have heard from some that the park has to use wood chips to make up for lack of snow in some areas to facilitate the oversnow vehicles.

    I’ve seen the road from Mammoth HS to Cooke City in deep snow and this is the case, the snow may be deep off the road but you can see that there really is no snowbank, only the difference in the depth of the snow because augers were used to clear the roadway.

    I suspect the same methods would be used should the roads be opened year-round as suggested by some here.

    That being said, there may be more animals on the cleared roadways due to ease in travel for them as well. Folks will just have to pay attention and be patient should winter regular use become a reality.

  8. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think opening the road from Cooke City to Cody would be a good tradeoff economically and maybe environmentally for the damage and expense of keeping the East Entrance road open for a handful of snowmobiles.

    There might be quite a bit more traffic through Lamar?

  9. monty Avatar

    I read w/interest all of the above comments & have a # of questions: what would be the cost/ benefit of keeping all of these road open? Maybe this question is unknowable at this point. How many miles would have to be plowed from Cook City to the Cody road? What would be the effect on bears in the early spring if the road from Madison junction to Mammoth was kept open? Maybe some of the snow removal might be a function of the yearly snowpack???

  10. Salle Avatar

    Allow me to take a shot at some of those questions.

    The original comment concerning the Cody to Cooke City route was 11 miles. This, I assume (dangerous term) is in regard to the portion of road over Chief Joseph Pass that links Cooke City to the highway that runs north and south and passes through Cody. The N/S highway is plowed throughout the winter anyway so it would just be the pass road that goes from that road to Cooke City.

    The cost of plowing the road from West gate to Madison and on to Mammoth probably would be about the same or less than what it costs to groom the same road for oversnow travel, which is done with specialized equipment that runs on diesel fuel and may actually get less miles/gal. than the plowing machines or perhaps the same… I’ll have to ask one of the maintenance crews next time I catch up with them. I’m pretty sure it would be about the same as grooming which gains little revenue given the number of park visitors in the winter (which would likely increase with open roads during this same period in the future if the roads are plowed). On top of that would be the fact that this same set of roadways would not require the snow removal efforts that take place in the spring due to hard snowpack produced by the grooming. It would not affect the overall moisture level produced by annual snow accumulation sine the snow only gets moved a short distance, measured in feet, from where it originally came to rest on the roadway in the first place and would not be removed from the overall snow/water system in the area or watershed.

    The effect on bears in the early spring probably wouldn’t be much different than it already is as the park opens to “pavement” travel in mid April when the bears are just coming out of hibernation, some do come out earlier but there seem to be few altercations with traffic during the early part of the season. There are also bears outside the park as well and they seem to be respected by most humans during that time. The regional locals are aware that they can have a pretty nasty attitude because they are hungry and sows will have cubs to defend. But I’m talking about folks who know they are in bear country.

    Hope that helps answer your questions.

  11. Salle Avatar

    Come to think of it, it probably would cost less to plow all the western flank roads all winter than it costs to keep Sylvan Pass open for <100 visitors coming in from the East gate. And safer.

  12. mikarooni Avatar

    Plowing more of the roads would be nice for me personally because I could more easily, cheaply, and readily access more of the Park in winter and so could everybody else; I could even make some money with all those people around. That’s the problem. Thinking selfishly, I say plow the roads. Thinking about what’s good for the wildlife in the Park, I must confront my selfishness and discipline myself to say don’t encourage more people in the Park, especially during the often fatally stressful winter season.

  13. Kropotkin man Avatar
    Kropotkin man

    Of late, there’s been a top down push in the NPS to increase revenues from the parks. Visitation numbers have not met the projections from a few years back. I see this issue as nothing more than another way to exploit the parks for more cash.

    Can’t get unlimited snow machines in the gate, then let’s work on getting in more cars.

    They’re looking to increase the number of guest beds on the South Rim (Grand Canyon) by 25% in the next few years. More over-nighters, more restaurants, more, more…..

    I bet Xanterra and other concessioners are champing at the bit. Open the roads, open the lodges, etc, etc.

    We humans do not need to be everywhere on the planet at the same time. Give the critters some peace and quiet. That’s the news from my tree.


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.

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