Winter Use Plan Threatens Snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park

West Yellowstone businessman believes snowmobiles should be allowed in the Park if resources are protected through the use of guides and snowcoaches.
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Glen Loomis, of West Yellowstone, Mont., is serving his 14th year on the West Yellowstone City Council.

Glen and brother Gale own businesses in West Yellowstone, including Travelers Snowmobile Center, Days Inn, Polaris West, a Sinclair Station, Trappers Restaurant, All Yellowstone Sports, Yellowstone SnoVans, and All Yellowstone Horseback Trail Rides and Interpretive Tours. The Loomises' company employs approximately 50 people.

YJ: What are you feelings about the Yellowstone Proposed Winter Use Plan?

GL: I have mixed feelings. The Yellowstone National Park Service has to figure out a way to deal with resource protection and they are doing so with the reduction of snowmobile numbers. But the numbers need to be revisited from time to time. I'm convinced they can handle more snowmobiles than they're proposing for this year. The best way to find out is to try it and adjust accordingly. Adaptive management is very important. They left it out because this plan is a temporary, three-year plan, but they shouldn't forget it. Adaptive management means they'd look at numbers and adjust accordingly.

YJ: How does the guide requirement affect your business?

GL: A hardcore snowmobiler doesn't think he needs a guide, especially in Yellowstone when you can only ride on the same trails that you travel on in a car. Most view the guide requirement as totally unreasonable. A good number of our customers are repeat customers, and they'd prefer the independence and flexibility. And yet folks who have never been here before appreciate the guide because they learn about Yellowstone Park. The down side is you need to have a guide ready to go at all times, and you have to pay them whether they are needed or not.

YJ: Describe a typical winter experience for your customers last year.

GL: If they're going to be here for three days, most would snowmobile in Yellowstone the first day and the next two days outside of the park. The truth of the matter is snowmobilers don't want to go in a snowcoach. It would be nice if they would, but they don't. And yet if they don't have any other way to access the park in winter, maybe they would. I don't know. That's part of our dilemma.

YJ: What is the outlook for your business under the Proposed Rule?

GL: We're not very pleased from the standpoint that it limits access to Yellowstone Park, but we need to protect the resources. We don't disagree with that. We need to make sure the visitors have a wonderful experience. I want to make sure we have winter access in the future. Snowmobiles are one way to adequately access Yellowstone without damage. To just say they shouldn't be there is just reacting to emotion, not reality.

YJ: The Park Service has indicated they'll have the final plan announced by end of October or early November. Are you confident the final plan will be announced by then?

GL: I'm confident they'll have a decision… My instinct is that the final rule will be essentially the draft/proposed rule. But the truth of the matter is, no matter what rule they put out, someone is going to sue them. They know there's no such thing as reaching a plan that everybody would like.

YJ: In the meantime, how do you prepare and market your company?

GL: We're preparing, investing and marketing based on the proposed rule. Of course we did that last year and we got beat up pretty bad. Right before the season opened, the judge changed the game plan. We scrambled. We did all kinds of things. We tried to re-schedule reservations. We put some visitors on snowcoaches. . . It cost us mega bucks.

YJ: What are the impacts to West Yellowstone's economy?

GL: Uncertainty about access to Yellowstone has caused people to just go somewhere else. There are other destinations where there is no uncertainty.

YJ: Do you think the coming presidential election affect Winter Use?

GL: It seems pretty certain that if Mr. Kerry is elected, it is the intent to close all national parks to snowmobiling.

YJ: What was last winter like for West Yellowstone?

GL: The damage has already started. A number of businesses in West Yellowstone have closed and/or declared bankruptcy in the last year primarily because they couldn't survive the winter. One motel went bankrupt, and a fabric store, a salon, the flower shop, and others have either gone out of business or are considering it. What caused all that is when you don't have enough income, you go down. These are the kinds of fallout suffered. And they're sure real to the folks who went out of business.

YJ: What is the outlook for your business?

GL: We don't really care how people want to go into the Park. If they want to go in a Snowcoach, we can provide this. It's (the proposed rule is) a lot better than not allowing access by snowmobile at all. That's not reasonable. There was some adjustment that was appropriate. The snowmobiles could be cleaner and quieter. Nobody disagreed, and it's been done. What's at issue now is control and access.

I get quite upset by the use of scare tactics by those who have this mission in life to further their cause. They put out bad information. They report that air quality in Yellowstone National Park is worse than in Los Angeles. It's not true. But it gets published, and people remember it. Let's deal with science for what it really is and protect our resources by adjusting accordingly. Scare tactics make me very angry because it's not fair, but it works.

YJ: Given the uncertainty and challenges your businesses face with respect to the Winter Use issue, what motivates you?

GL: We're survivors. It's a family business. If you don't survive, the whole family is affected. We've got to figure out a way to survive. It's easy to walk away. Our company employs 50 people. Eleven of them are family members. We're tied together.

I've been in Yellowstone every year for the past 58 years. We love Yellowstone National Park. We're in business to make sure people get to enjoy Yellowstone, not destroy it.

Yellowstone in winter is an absolutely beautiful winter wonderland. It's one of the most spectacular winter scenes on the face of the earth with the geysers and animals. I want to make sure my grandchildren and great grandchildren can access Yellowstone in the winter. Snowmobiles are one method. Snowcoaches are another.

To say people can't take a snowmobile inside Yellowstone Park is totally ridiculous. It needs to provide access but in a way that protects the resources. Cleaner, quieter snowmobiles are now accessible, and guides provide the most protection for the resources.

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