Yellowstone National Park Officials Release Development Vision For Tower-Roosevelt

Yellowstone Park officials envision a redesign of the parking lot that sets in front of the historic Roosevelt Lodge at Tower-Roosevelt. NPS photo.

Tower-Roosevelt might be viewed as one of the sleepier areas of Yellowstone National Park, but it's one rich in beauty and history and, since the late 1990s, has become somewhat of a magnet for wildlife viewers anxious to spot wolves. In developing a vision for the area, park officials are trying to contain development, although some argue they are not entirely succeeding.

Located not far from the northeastern corner of the park at the junction of the Lamar River Road and the Grand Loop, Tower-Roosevelt gained fame from Teddy Roosevelt's visit to the area in 1903. While he had intentions of hunting, concerns over adverse publicity of the president hunting in the national park persuaded him to keep his rifle packed away.

These days the area isn't much changed since when Teddy visited. The log lodge that was built in 1919-20 and named after the president remains and is one of the cozier, more charming lodges in the park. The view from the rocking chairs on the front porch provides a beautiful sweep down towards the Lamar Valley. The surrounding cabins, dubbed "Frontier" and"Roughrider," can be looked down upon by some as overly rustic, but they have a simplistic charm about them that brings folks back year after year after year.

With wolves, grizzlies, bison, elk and pronghorn antelope often spotted in the nearby Lamar Valley, the lodge and its dining room, general store, gas station, and cabins has grown in popularly in the past decade with visitors needing a respite from scanning the valley with spotting scopes and telephoto lenses. Another attraction not far south of Roosevelt Lodge is the popular hiking trail down to Tower Fall. The walk is relatively short and pays off with a dazzling view of a 132-foot water fall that descends between volcanic spires.

The growing visitation in this area has led park officials to produce a "comprehensive plan" for the Tower-Roosevelt area that sets down some parameters for any development that might be proposed in the near-term.

"Our intent with this plan was to look at the future for this area as a whole," park spokesman Al Nash said Thursday. "It is an attempt to look at an area and set limits on future decisions at a time when we’re not driven by a specific proposal. It takes some of that specific pressure away from the planning process.”

While there are no development proposals on the table, the comprehensive plan stakes out some guidelines:

The Selected Action will accommodate a net increase of up to 11,025 square feet in development footprint for buildings (a 10% gain from the current 115,000 square feet) distributed throughout specific locations within the Tower-Roosevelt area. This gain could be offset by removal of up to 5,000 square feet of the Tower Store. The overall net increase in development footprint for paved parking (currently 142,332 square feet) is 33,000 square feet (a 23% net gain). This increase to the development footprint is dispersed throughout the Tower-Roosevelt area in eight (8) planning locations where facilities are clustered: Roosevelt Lodge, Roosevelt Corrals, Tower Ranger Station, Tower Administrative, Tower Junction, Tower Fall Trailhead, Tower Fall Campground, and Yancey’s Hole locations.

Of the allowable increase in paved parking, Mr. Nash said that for the most part would not involve creation of new parking areas, but rather paving of existing gravel lots. Too, the plan calls for a redesign of the gravel lot directly in front of Roosevelt Lodge, a lot that can sully both initial impressions of the lodge and the views from the lodge down into the Lamar Valley.

Additionally, the plan envisions the halving in size, if not outright removal, of the 10,000-square-foot general store at the Tower Fall Trailhead, and addition of vault toilets at both the Tower Fall Campground and Yancy's Hole, where western-style cookouts are offered during the summer months.

If a concessionaire requested permission to build larger facilities in the area, those proposals would have to be studied and reviewed by the public, according to Mr. Nash.

“Anything that might be proposed out of this EA (environmental assessment) would certainly require a new NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis. We’re talking about parameters on projects that would likely fit within our future," he said. "The history of Yellowstone really has been one of limiting the footprint. And so we have a lot of history that goes with that. It would be a rather challenging argument in light of the analysis in this EA to propose some kind of significant additional development in the Tower-Roosevelt area outside the limits placed in this EA. It would go against the trend of the park, it would go against the history of the park. It would be very challenging in light of this work that we just released, where we really emphasis that Tower-Roosevelt is a very rustic area with some specific cultural and natural values that we feel limiting development protects.”

Still, some who commented on the plan as it went through the environmental assessment process felt park officials were allowing too much development.

"I am unaware of evidence that the public have demanded or solicited expansion of commercial facilities at T-R or that the public has indicated that the package of proposed development/expansion is either an improvement or acceptable," wrote one individual.

"The Park Service has failed to demonstrate that 'desired conditions' can only be achieved by expanding commercial build up (buildings, parking, and consequent activity) as this 'plan' proposes," added another. "Rebuilding existing services/facilities in exactly the same spot/same size DOES achieve desired conditions."

Yet another suggested that the plan provide "for a REDUCTION of building footprint and parking areas, particularly as they pertain to concession activities that are readily available nearby (general store, gas station, dude ranch recreation."

In response, park officials noted that "approximately three million visitors come to Yellowstone National Park each year. While one of the smallest of the developed areas, many visitors utilize facilities in the Tower-Roosevelt area. The area has longer lengths of stays (2006 Visitor Use Study) than other developments in the park. The Tower-Roosevelt Comprehensive Plan identifies the need to expand or reduce facilities as possible options for the area. Structures may also be removed, replaced in existing locations, or relocated to locations where resources are less impacted."

"While development footprint expansion is proposed in some areas, reduction is also indicated within the plan," the planners added. "The age and condition of several of the structures noted in the TRCP reduce the safety and efficiency of park and concessions operations. As stated in the 2007 YNP Core Operations One-Year Report, the park’s goal is to '[r]educe the number of buildings, roads, trails, and utility systems as well as features (vehicles, stock, etc.) that are not core, in order to improve the condition of those we keep.' Another goal is to provide safe operations and visitor experiences."

While one comment suggested that the park rely on the nearby gateway communities of Gardiner, Montana, 23 miles to the west, and Cooke City, Montana, 32 miles to the east, to provide visitor facilities as demand increases, park officials said those towns were too far away from Tower-Roosevelt.

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Comments

Anytime I see a new development plan for Yellowstone, I think of the monstrosity created at Old Faithful, and urge restraint. I visited Tower Falls and Lamar Valley in 2008 and, thankfully, it is still somewhat isolated, at least in relative terms. The coolest thing about the current state of Lamar Valley is that it is somewhat off the beaten path and unless you really want to go there you may miss it altogether.

I agree with Jim. I've not yet been to Tower, but Old Faithful was way over-developed in my mind. Our Parks should be left natural and wild for the most part with a few exceptions for visitor access and safety. We go for scenery, wildlife, recreation, and solitude - not another Disney experience.

I have to agree with Jim and Brad about restraining development in Yellowstone. My wife and I made our first visit there on the last warm weekend in October of this year. Thousands entered the park both days with many confused and disappointed dealing with closed roads compounded by travel restrictions due to the fire at West Thumb. Seeing the crowds crawling over the resource at the very end of the shoulder season, I have pledged never to visit the place during the "busy" summer season. Seeing Old Faithful, even with thousands of others, fulfilled a lifetime dream, but finding the resource ringed in a semi-circle of some of the ugliest, random development in the NPS left us cold. Before a dime of borrowed Chinese money goes to expand Tower-Roosevelt, planners should focus on long-range and far-sighted improvements at the shrine of Old Faithful as an international symbol of the park and preservation movement.