Winter visitors up slightly in 07-08

[Thursday April 3, 2008] There was a slight uptick in the number of winter visitors to Yellowstone National Park in 2007-2008, but the larger story is how the nature of those visitors is changing — a trend we think will become more pronounced in coming years.

Yellowstone officials announced a total of 301,600 people visited the Park in the winter season (December 2007-March 2008). That’s an increase of 1.27 percent over the same months in 2006-2007, when 297,809 visited Yellowstone.

Most of the visitors, 53,122, came in through the North Entrance, the only one kept open all winter. That’s an increase of 8 percent over 2006-2007. But the numbers were up at the other entrances: 32,942 entered via the East Entrance (up almost 4 percent), 16,314 entered via the South Entrance (up 1.3 percent), and 550 via the East Entrance (up 1.29 percent.

Snow coach visitors were up 9.8 percent to 22,344. Again, West Yellowstone is the top spot to enter the park by snow coach, totaling 13,974 visitors for the 2008 winter season. Snow coach visits were up at all entrances, while snowmobile visits dropped at all but the North entrance where they were up more than 18 percent.

As we reported earlier, the February numbers indicated a clear shift in the type of visitors hitting Yellowstone National Park in winter. A decade ago, snowmobilers dominated the ranks of winter visitors, with the occasional cross-country skiier or snowshoer. However, the number of snowmobilers entering Yellowstone National Park was down 1.21 percent, declining to 31,420, with most entering via the West Entrance. And the number of snowmobilers via the East Entrance was down by almost half, with 126 entering through February 2008, compared to 241 through February 2007. In fact, the number of skiers exceeded the number of snowmobilers entering the Park from the east: 134 through through February 2008. And snowcoach traffic was up dramatically: 22,344 visitors entered the Park via snowcoach, an increase of 9.8 percent, with most of these visitors entering via the East Entrance.

The implication is clear: the days of snomobilers dominating the ranks of Yellowstone National Park winter visitors is coming to an end, doomed by the new winter regulations requiring the use of four-stroke snowmobiles and that visitors be accompanied by a guide.

Not that we mind. We still remember the days when a winter visit to Yellowstone meant fighting the haze from exhaust at the West Entrance and the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, the result of too many dirty snowmobiles in a defined area.

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