by Jack Welch
Special Projects Consultant Volunteer, BlueRibbon Coalition
Yes, the gates to Yellowstone National Park opened to Winter Use on December 15th with limited access to the Park. However, on December 29th and 30th a major snowstorm brought over a foot of new snow to the Park. This additional snow has allowed for increased oversnow access to the Park! Both the South and West Gates are open to oversnow access by snowmobile and snowcoaches. The only restriction to oversnow access as of December 31st is from the Northeast Gate. The Mammoth area only allowed rubber tracked snowcoaches. Remember, the Park is open until March 15th for oversnow access so please consider a visit this winter.
Just a reminder regarding the level of snowmobile and snowcoach access for the 2011-2012 season, under the Transition or One-Year-Rule, up to 318 commercially guided BAT snowmobiles and up to 78 commercially guided snowcoaches a day will be allowed into the Park this winter. These are the same restrictions as the last two seasons.
There is one additional update on snowmobile access in Grand Teton. The Grassy Lakes Road from near Ashton, Idaho to and from Flagg Ranch is open to both BAT and Non-BAT snowmobiles this winter. The Flagg Ranch store and gas island are also open daily. However, there are no overnight accommodations. Yes, you can start a trip to Island Park at Flagg Ranch!
What about the recently announced Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS)? The SEIS process will begin in January 2012. The SEIS purpose is to provide additional analysis of many issues, many of which were highlighted in the comments from the snowmobile community. These include variable preset use limits, air quality and sound modeling assumptions, proposed BAT for snowcoaches, adaptive management ramework, and cost of avalanche mitigation on Sylvan Pass, 10:30 entry requirement and the very important issue of opportunities for non-commercially guided access. Yes, the Park Service says it will consider alternatives to requiring snowmobilers to hire a commercial guide to access the Park! The Park Service goal is to complete the SEIS process and have a new long range Winter Use Plan in place for the 2012-2013 season and beyond.
In closing, yes, the Park Service appears to have listened and we must continue our momentum by vigorously participating in the new SEIS process. Your comments made a difference last time and can hopefully assist in making critical improvements to the final plan.
Note: As additional information on items covered in this summary are announced by the Park Service they will be posted at our dedicated website of www.saveyellowstonepark.com