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Reader Participation Day: Which Issue Resonates More: Yellowstone Snowmobiles or Cape Hatteras ORVs?


Two of the most contentious issues in the National Park System are the debate over snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park and the one over off-road vehicle management at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

In Yellowstone, the dispute over recreational snowmobiles is moving into its second decade at a cost of more than $10 million to the National Park Service. Sometime next year we should see the latest draft winter-use plan and how it proposes to let visitors enter the park: snowmobiles, snowcoaches, or a mix of the two?

While snowmobile technology certainly has evolved since 2000 -- when this issue became a Ping-Pong ball between conservationists worried about impacts to Yellowstone's air, water, sound, and employee and visitor health and snowmobile enthusiasts who prefer to enjoy winter in the park atop their sleds -- how much those impacts can be resolved or mitigated remains questionable.

Past efforts at solving this conundrum have resulted in lawsuits that succeeded in sending the Yellowstone staff back to the drawing board time and again.

At Cape Hatteras, the debate over when and where those who rely on off-road vehicles to reach preferred spots on the seashore is only a handful of years old. But it is particularly heated with abuse at times heaped on Park Service staff as well as on Defenders of Wildlife and the National Audubon Society, which successfully sued to have the Park Service produce an ORV management plan.

Depending on which side you listen to, the proposed ORV rules would be devastating to local businesses and force surf casters and their families to walk miles toting their gear to reach their preferred fishing spots, or they would go a long way towards restoring healthy populations of endangered and threatened sea turtles and shorebirds.

While, understandably, these issues can have the greatest impact on the economies and livelihoods of those living closest to Yellowstone and Cape Hatteras, these are units of the National Park System, and as such should be important to all who enjoy the national parks, no matter where they live.

So, with that background, which of these two issues is of greater interest to you?


Regarding snowmobile use in Yellowstone - since only Best Available Technology (BAT) snow machines are allowed to enter the park, that means they are fitted with clean and quiet 4-stroke engines from cars and motorbikes that enter the park pretty much unrestricted in the summer. So my point is, if the sleds are so bad for the park, then why not ban the cars and bikes as well? It is only logical. That is the point, If the logic to ban sleds is sound and valid, then it also applies to the motor vehicles in the summer. Why not? Same engines, same noise, same emissions. The dirty, smoky, smelly two-stroke sleds have long since been banned. Yellowstone is a PARK, not a WILDERNESS. The management practices of the two are DIFFERENT. As long as cars and motorbikes and motorhomes are allowed to enter the park in the summer, then sleds should be welcome in the winter.

For the sake of comparison, at Assateague Island National Seashore, the beach miles are divided almost half and half between those open to vehicles and those closed to vehicles. The number of vehicles on the beach is strictly limited to 145 at any time in the Maryland part, 48 in the Virginia part. At Cape Hatteras there are no limits on the number of vehicles entering the beach.

YNP4Everyone, I'm referring to the backcountry poaching by some snowmobilers that occurs -- much more infrequently than it used to -- along the western border of the park near West Yellowstone. And there were times when there was "high marking" on hillsides along the Grand Loop Road.

Still, things are indeed much improved and for the most part those are issues largely of the past.

I think if one hunts hard enough they can find some evidence -- and not necessarily overwhelming -- to buttress their respective position, whether it concerns snowmobiles in Yellowstone, ORVs in Cape Hatteras, personal watercraft at Gulf Islands, hunting in the parks, overflights, or any of the other myriad issues that must be settled across the National Park System.

The problem seems to be finding a suitable middle ground, and we need to find a way to reach that point without spending millions of dollars, as has been the case in Yellowstone, on environmental studies and legal fees that could be better spent by the Park Service.

Kurt thanks for acknowledging that the snowmobiles are restricted to the roads as you can see Randi and Ed don't seem to understand it in their comments. As you know there are also occurances of automobiles running off road in Yellowstone over the years yet there has not been a big push to eliminate them from the park. Snowmobiles may get too far off to the side of the road or may pull into an area that is closed in winter but open in summer and those are sometimes called off road for snwomobiles but called normal traffic in the summer so unfortunately the term off road varies between summer and winter when the snowmobiles may not truly be off road but in an area that is not groomed and maintained in the winter but still part of the road system.

Julie Kay Smithson

I have been a regular visitor to CHNS for 50 years. Cape Hatteras is an extremely small Park when compared to Yellowstone. At one time the ocean beaches was the highway for the extremely small communities of local residents as there was no paved roads on Hatteras or Ocracoke islands. In the 1950s the state built a paved road and no one used the beach for access on or off the island anymore. The beaches were wide and void of vehicles. It was a wild and beautiful place then.

The National Park service dropped the ball by not restricting ORV access then. The handwriting was on the wall and the Park Service looked the other way. Today it is quite common to see cars parked 20 feet apart with the rest of the beach a morass of ORV tracks in the sand. For the most part the ORV users are orderly and respectful, there are just too many of them in too small a place. NPS law enforcement officers are few and far between and can’t adequately patrol or enforce the ORV laws there are.

Many times CHNS doesn’t even remotely look like a National Park. It would be better for the National park Service to deed the Nation’s first National Seashore to the state of North Carolina than to continue to miss-manage the Park the way they do now.

The local National Park mangers seem relieved to let the environmental organizations take responsibility for forcing them to adhere to Park Policy. 50 years ago should be the standard for management of CHNS.

Bill H

When our children were young we were uncomfortable with the vehicles driving on the beach at Cape Hattaras especially near the that time we did not have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. We have since discovered the joy of getting off by ourselves and spending the day on a beach where we seldom see other people. There are still many sections where cars are not allowed and the wall to wall people that use them can have them. With the miles of shoreline available at Cape Hatteras it would be a shame to close the beaches and leave them to the birds. We respect the seasonal closures and have often talked about getting more involved with "turtle patrol" with the hopes of someday seeing a hatching turtle nest.


A philosophical bent, eh?

Let's keep things in their proper context. I was merely assessing your comparison of the impacts of nature -- hurricanes, cold, snowfall and blowdowns -- with those of motorized vehicles. I never said humans were not part of nature. They are very much.

But snowmobiles, ATVs, chainsaws, cars, trucks, tents, sleeping bags, etc, etc, etc, are not naturally occurring, are they? Rather, does it not take the manipulation of nature through the mining and refining of ores, distillation of petroleum, etc, etc, etc, to create them? (I'll let Ryan debate whether that manipulation is natural since it's by humankind's hands)

Some see beauty and magnificence in the raw, unbridled power of nature, even if it's displayed in a wildfire or a hurricane, simply because it's a wholly natural display. There's no ugliness in it. Awe-inspiring, perhaps, but not ugly.

Others, though, see no beauty in deeply rutted terrain left by machinery or vehicles, or in oil or antifreeze spills, or in pieces of bumper or undercarriage left behind.

That's not to say I'm against riding in a car or snowcoach or snowmobile. It's merely to rebut your assertion that Mom Nature is as devastating to a national park landscape as is Honda or Polaris.

My family and I visited Yellowstone last winter and did the snowmobile trip with a guide from West Yellowstone . What a wonderful adventure it was. I have bad high blood pressure and there is no way I or most visitors could hike all the way to most of the park-- especially in the winter. The guides were very cognigent of the impact on the park. The snow-mobiles were quiet and meet all the guidelines. The animals did'nt seem to care at all about us but rather were wanting to use the roads we were on because it was easier for them to wlk because the snow was hard. We never were allowed to go off the main road and travelled in a group.i don't think snow-mobiles negativley impact the park at all ,the way its regulated now . It allows 100 times more people to enjoy the park during the winter. the area the snow-mobiles go on is less then 1/10 of 1 % of the park. I've been to nine of our Nat. parks and our trip to Yellowstone on the snow-mobiles was one of the greatest!!

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