Yellowstone National Park officials are openly concerned about the future of the East Entrance during the winter season after only 97 snowmobiles and no snowcoaches used that route to enter the Park.
It costs the Park $325,000 annually to keep the East Entrance and the Sylvan Pass open. It’s not easy: Because there’s a constant danger of avalanches, a bazooka must be fired into the snow to bring it down; the road is then groomed. With only 97 vehicles availing themselves of the service (besides Park Server vehicles, of course), the cost per snowmobile was $3,350.51.
That’s pretty steep.
The subject came up at a recent meeting between Yellowstone and Park County officials in Laurel, Mont. That the numbers were so bad isn’t a surprise: a workable winter plan didn’t come out until November, well past the time many tourists make their winter traveling plans, and way too late for any snowcoach operator to make plans for the winter season. Add the general malaise of the economy to the mix, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty poor winter season.
But what if the smaller number is part of a larger trend? Snowmobiling remains a niche market, and the temporary winter plan crafted last fall worked because peak numbers were rarely reached. Despite Cody’s best efforts to create a winter tourist economy based on Yellowstone access, it’s never really taken root and attracted hordes of fans to the area. There are two centers of winter life in Yellowstone — West Yellowstone/Old Faithful to the west and Mammoth Hot Springs/Gardiner/Cooke City to the north. Cody is not easily accessible from either.
So don’t be surprised if Yellowstone officials don’t start to float some trial balloons about closing the East Entrance this winter. A cost savings of $325,000 would be a big one in this economy, and Cody and Wyoming officials don’t have much ammunition to counter the pure economics of the situation.
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