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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?


Having skied into Yellowstone twice in midwinter, I had hoped to find a quiet place for camping and exploration. But instead I found stinking blue fumes, constant noise and stress on many trails. I have never returned to Yellowstone in the winter. And after reading comments about Hatteras, I won't be going there either. This country simply does not give a damn about the integrity of its national parks.

Snowmobiles: I have a home in Wyoming. Yellowstone is a huge park, the only way to see and photograph the park is on a snowmobile. Yes, there are tours in a snow coach, but they are on their timetable and only stop in a location for a few minutes. I have seen the blue haze and heard the noise that everyone complained about with the older machines. With the new ones, they are much quieter and the haze is gone. The animals have adapted and are use to the the machines operating on the road. In other words, they are not stressed. I have seen them stressed by a hiker/skiier getting too close where they are not use to it. I am in favor of continued snowmobile operations utilizing best available technology and reasonable limits on numbers.

Question, Angela, when did you visit the park in the winter?

Having spent much time living near & visiting Yellowstone, I must, to the chagrin of many, side with the "keep snowmobiles out" group. Skiing through the solitude of the Park, enjoying the beauty - in peace & quiet. Machine age has nothing to do with the noise - there are performance products that make the 2010 models just as noisy as older ones, and ALL break the solitude that is Yellowstone in the winter.
But I also do not want to deny those non-athletic types the beauty of the Park in the Winter, so I believe the best solution, for the enjoyment of all, is a limited number of vehicles allowed. The issue then, of course, becomes the correct number........
Hatteras also is beautiful - and so sorry if you have to hike with all your stuff to fish where you want. The parks were intended as a PRESERVATION of the natural landscape, and if misuse or overuse destroys that, then rules must be devised to preserve the Park for future generations. We are only borrowing the lands during our own lifespans - more people are to come & they too should have the opportunity to enjoy the natural wonders we are attempting to preserve.

these parks should not be treated as highways. The parks are there for people and wildlife. For some wildlife, they are the only place they have to rest, feed and care for their young. We need to ensure wildlife continue to have such areas in our over developed, over populated country.

I have spent some quality time in Assateague Island NS, where ORVs are permitted to drive down the 37-mile beach for fishing and other seashore pursuits. This is a well-used park with very crowded beaches, but I was virtually unaware of any disruption from the ORVs (and I was working on a travel guide, so we were looking for disruptions). None of them seemed to be joyriders, and strict speed limits are enforced when the road ends and the sand begins. The fishermen we met well down the beach were as interested in peace and quiet as we were. Piping plover and turtle nesting areas were well-marked, and ORV routes steered clear of these. I don't know if Cape Hatteras is significantly more congested with these vehicles, but I did not find them nearly as disturbing as I expected.

Snowmobiling in Yellowstone feels to me to be a much more serious issue, especially because so many large animals make their homes there. I have not been there in winter, but we were just there in June, and even the general traffic noise was extremely obtrusive. I can't imagine the misery of small gas engines, fumes, and machines cutting through peaceful fields moving every which way. If Yellowstone can't be sacred, what in heck is?

A continuation of my above comments: The park requires 4-stroke machines which are much quieter and cleaner than the old machines. You are also required to hire a guide service. The guides make their living in the winter in Yellowstone and the last thing they want to do is to lose their guide license. They keep people on the roads and off the trails. I'm not sure when Angela was there, but snow machines have been required to be only on the roads for the past 20 years. I understand the skiier point of view; but it is a big park and all you need to do is ski a mile or two and you are a well into the back country. The problem with restricting the park to skiing only is that it is simply too big a park. To visit Yellowstone Falls would be a 100+ mile round trip with overnight winter camping. I am not able to do that. As for the noise, if that is the chief concern, then perhaps we should ban Harley Davidson's during the summer. They are far louder! By the way, the Ranger's patrol the park in winter on snowmobiles. Finally, do not confuse a National Park with a Wilderness Area. The National Park exists for both the animals and humans. Restrict it so far that humans can not visit, and the love for our parks will decline.

By the way, I have no commercial interest in this. I am not a snowmobiler. I have rented them (and a guide) on occasion to allow me and my family to visit the park in the winter.

I've been to West Yellowstone, but not actually in the park (I was traveling on horseback, riding one horse & packing the other, in the late fall of 1980 or 1981). Have never been to Cape Hatteras. That said, it occurs to me that many well-meaning people wax apoplectic over over-the-snow vehicles and/or all-terrain (off-road) vehicles, never considering the impact Mother Nature has on the landscape of both places, and everywhere else.

Cape Hatteras is regularly battered by hurricanes, nor'easterers (rain or snow, depending on the season), high tides, etc.

Yellowstone has record cold temperatures, snow measured in feet, fire, wind, and other natural weather happenings.

While some get their bowels in an uproar over the puny tracks made by OSVs and/or ATVs, seldom is mention made of the power of weather.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness suffered a massive blowdown -- tens of thousands of trees -- in the mid-1990s, worse than the blowdown caused by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Once upon a time, before there was a National Park Service and National Parks, there was private property. Case in point: The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border and spine of the Appalachians. Promises made to the people of Cades Cove, Tennessee, and other sparsely-populated areas of this region, were made by state governors and other officials, but they were not promises made honestly. The intent was to remove these people from their homes, farms and private property. One woman was forcibly removed from her property by men carrying her in her rocking chair. Integrity is a word often bandied about in the same sentence with government, but the two are usually poles apart. They are not synonymous.

Before condemning people whose choice of recreational mode involves a motor, please consider that Mother Nature has some weather engines that make recreational vehicle access pale in comparison!" My choice: Neither "resonates more" -- or less. Both places should welcome, among others, motorized forms of recreation.

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