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Yellowstone Spent $1,096 Per Snowmobiler Coming Through East Entrance


The money Yellowstone National Park spent this past winter to keep Sylvan Pass safe for snowmobilers breaks down to almost $1,100 per snowmobiler, according to park numbers.

The park budgeted $125,000 for snow safety operations, which included firing military artillery rounds onto the mountain flanks above the pass, to protect snowmobile and snowcoach traffic from avalanches, park spokesman Dan Hottle said. 

During this past winter, 114 snowmobiles -- 25 in December, 45 in January, and 44 in February -- entered the park via the East Entrance and over Sylvan Pass, he said.



It would interesting to know how much the park spends above the $125,000 described above for "snow safety operations" (i.e. avalanche control) to keep Sylvan Pass open for over-snow winter travel. Examples include any plowing or grooming of the road to accommodate snowmobiles? Add those dollars in, and the total cost of keeping the road open in winter for a small number of users would be even higher.

This story in the Traveler back in 2008 indicated that annual costs to keep the pass open were over $450,000.

As just one example of additional costs, this article from last November noted, "Snow had already begun to pile up on Sylvan Pass by mid-October, requiring workers to clear a road to the platform where a 105-mm howitzer cannon is used each winter to blast snow from Hoyt Peak and Avalanche Peak on the north side of the pass."

The article cited above also provides some good insights into the situation: "A 2007 draft winter-use plan proposed closing the pass, but public outcry from Cody residents and pressure from Wyoming elected officials brought about formation of a working group and discussions with park officials that later resulted in a reversal of that decision."

Wyoming's only representative in Congress (Cynthia Lummis) issued a press release last week touting her "vote for Fiscal Sanity" (the FY 2015 House Republican Budget Resolution).

Rep. Lummis says, "This plan takes the difficult and absolutely necessary task of reforming social welfare and certain entitlement programs head-on. It cuts government spending by over $5 trillion .... It is high time we rein in the out of control spending in Washington.”

Some might suggest the spending to allow 114 snowmobile trips into Yellowstone last winter could be considered an "entitlement program"... or maybe it sounds better to just call it a federal subsidy for a few businesses in Cody, Wyoming.

Excellent, Jim.

Jim...exactly. This is the same scenario at Rainier and Denali. The few climbers want every park visitor to pay for the high cost of maintaining a high altitude rescue team and equipment, for their safety, during the climbing season. This is nothing more then subsidizing the guide services that lead these trips. I fully support anyone wanting to participate in these activities but it should be on a pay to play basis. Let's face it, many of those involved in these activities are the same people complaining about the high cost of government.

Seems like a pittance compared to the billions spend on other entitlement programs-- how many of those are justified??

gutz54 -

I agree a half million dollars or so spent on this one project at Yellowstone (the figure cited above from 2008) is small compared to lots of other programs, but it seems there are lots of better uses for those dollars that would benefit a lot more visitors. And, if the NPS is forced to take some of cuts proposed by Rep. Lummis and associates, this is one example of a cut that would impact relatively few people.

Bad uses of tax dollars are uses that don't affect oneself or one's pet projects. :)

I was a winterkeeper at Lake Hotel during the 70s, and when I started working in 1975, the road from the East Entrance to Fishing Bridge junction was closed all winter. The NPS kept one (1) seasonal ranger at the East Entrance. The road from Canyon to Lake to West Thumb was not groomed, and staffing consisted of the district ranger at Lake and the district ranger at Canyon. There was more NPS staff at Grant because they groomed to the South Entrance and half-way to Old Faithful. The sub-district ranger for the South Entrance was stationed at Grant. That's it. So when you're considering the cost of keeping the East Entrance open all winter, the NPS has much greater staffing costs now than it used to. Close the East Entrance all winter today, and you could cut a bunch of positions at the East Entrance and Lake--the groomer that takes care of the East Entrance and Sylvan Pass is stationed at Lake. There was "political pressure" from Cody and Wyoming to keep the East Entrance open, but you can bet NPS management wanted to keep the East Entrance to remain open, too. That's the nature of a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies never shrink; they grow. Like cancer.

What constituency is served by keeping the East Entrance open for snowmobiling? A relative handful of Wyoming snowmobilers. Locals. If you're from the West Coast or East of the Mississippi and you're planning a winter vacation in Yellowstone, you'll go in thru West Yellowstone, Jackson and the South Entrance, or Gardiner and the North Entrance--not Cody and the East Entrance.

"Entitlement programs" is a term usually used negatively to describe what someone else gets; never used to describe what you want yourself. And everybody wants SOMEthing.

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