Bicycles long have been allowed in Yellowstone National Park. In fact, organizations like Vermont Bicycle Tours and Backroads long have featured cycling trips that wind through sections of the park. In early April you can actually ride some of the park roads after the snow has been removed but before cars are allowed into the park, and the park even promotes its cycling opportunities.
So why am I posting about the addition of a bike concession at Old Faithful? Because it troubles me a tad. I don't think most folks bring their bikes when they go to Yellowstone for a vacation. They're thinking about hiking, about walking through the geyser basins on the paths and boardwalks, about watching bison in the Lamar Valley and searching with their binoculars for wolves and grizzlies in the Lamar Valley. They're not thinking about dodging a mountain biker.
Yet now the park has allowed Xanterra Parks and Resorts to rent bikes in the Old Faithful area. While one of the recommended bike paths is the old Fountain Freight Road, a good dirt track located six miles north of Old Faithful, the paved path that winds from the Old Faithful Inn to Morning Glory Pool also is open for two-wheeled traffic, as is the paved path to the Lone Star Geyser.
Supposedly these routes long have been open to bike traffic. But since there wasn't a bike rental fleet in the park, bike congestion wasn't a concern. Now it might be.
What happens along that trail from the inn to Morning Glory when
you mix a busy summer day's crowd of pedestrians (darting youngsters as
well as elderly with not-so-quick reactions), with joggers and mountain
bikers -- think two or three teens racing between the inn and the hot spring -- not to mention the resident bison that hang out in the vicinity
of that trail?
I posed that question to Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash, wondering if the mix wasn't a recipe for disaster?
"You raise an important question of congestion of any type. It's a valid concern," he told me. "We certainly hope that's (an accident-in-waiting) not the case."
Perhaps it won't become a problem. But just as snowmobiles in winter have turned from a novelty into a problem, mountain bikes could also.
What will happen a year or two or three down the road in Yellowstone? If there's good business for bike rentals, the fleet will no doubt get larger and the concessionaire will push for more areas in the park to pedal. The Hayden and Lamar valleys certainly look enticing for cycling. They're more rolling than up and down. All they need are some bike trails cut into the landscape.
Think it couldn't happen? Already the National Park Service is exploring mountain bike possibilities in Big Bend and Cuyahoga Valley national parks. Why would the NPS be promoting such pilot programs if someone in Washington didn't think opening more parks to mountain biking was a good idea?
I'm not against cycling. I have both a road and a mountain bike. I think it's great exercise. I just question whether there's a need to actively promote mountain biking in Yellowstone, a park where huge summer crowds, dangerous wildlife, and hot springs and geyser runoff seem to be a poor match for bikers.
Too, look at the mess the Yosemite Valley has been turned into with its biking, rafting, swimming pools and other man-made attractions that have cluttered the valley floor and detracted from the killer scenery. Do we want the same for Old Faithful?