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All posts tagged shuttles

Trains to Yellowstone? Oh, for the days . . .

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I just answered an amazing question on quora.com: “What are the dangers of taking a train to Yellowstone?”

To my mind this is a strange question, but perhaps the person asking it does not know where trains do and do not run in the U.S.

It would be great if there were still trains to one or more of the entrances to the park. However, the last passenger train, the Northern Pacific, to terminate at Gardiner, Montana (the North Entrance) arrived with a passel of Girls Scouts in 1955, and one could only get as far as Livingston on a train up to 1979. The other railroads that took passengers near the park had stopped running trains to the vicinity of Yellowstone even before that.

Your present options are taking a tour bus, flying to one of the gateway towns that has an airport and renting a car, or driving in your own car, which people do from every state in the Union.

Personally, I would think it high time that railroads reconsider the possibility of building tracks back to Gardiner, Cody, and/or West Yellowstone. The National Park Service should then set up shuttle buses to all the major points of interest—if only there were money for such a dream to come true any time soon. . . .

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Good news, bad news about visitors to Yellowstone

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fox north entrance Yellowstone

This fox was spotted tracking a snowshoe hare from atop the Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance earlier this month.

Let’s take a breather from the national news scene to look at the amazing popularity of Yellowstone Park in 2016. The National Park Service office has recently announced record visitation for last year: 4,257,177 visitors came through the gates, up nearly 4 percent over last year’s record. Their January 17th press release attributes much of this huge influx to the number of commercial tour buses—12,778 last year. It’s wonderful to know that people from all over the world are able to travel and enjoy Yellowstone’s wonders, but limits on numbers or timing of visits probably need to be set up to conserve natural resources and keep the park beautiful.

Since the NPS is obliged by law to preserve the parks “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”—as well as to conserve their natural resources—officials are pondering ways to carry out these sometimes opposing obligations. Way back in May of 2011, I developed a plan for a shuttle system on the west side of the park. Unlike a park such as Zion, which essentially has one central road, the figure-eight system of park roads in Yellowstone does not lend itself well to shuttles, but having only the most-traveled west side accessible by shuttle and creating incentives to encourage able-bodied visitors to use them would help the congestion.

As someone who has enjoyed the park for over three-quarters of a century, I don’t want us to love it to death!

—Janet

Photo credit: Yellowstone Forever, @ynpforever Twitter feed, January 6, 2017

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Janet Joan Orvis and Yellowstone bus

Yellowstone bus at Gallatin Camp way station, 1937. Janet is on the right, her sister Joan is in the center, and her cousin Judy on the left.


The summer of 2014 marks 75 years since author Janet Chapple first spent a summer season in Yellowstone. To celebrate, YellowstoneTreasures.com will serialize excerpts from her memoirs of her experiences from 1939 to 1942.

Living within sight of Old Faithful Geyser

Residing in Billings, Montana, my parents both made their livings as music teachers when I was a small child. In the summers they found jobs near Yellowstone Park, including managing the 320 Ranch in the Gallatin Canyon one year and working in the office of the Gallatin Gateway Inn another. Around 1937 and for either one or two summers, they ran the “Gallatin Camp” way station to service the park buses that brought Yellowstone visitors from Gallatin Gateway Inn to the West Entrance.

From looking through the Yellowstone Park Company payroll books held at Yellowstone’s archives, my sister Joan Orvis and I learned that my father, L. Worth Orvis, was employed as Assistant Transportation Agent for Old Faithful Inn in 1939, and that he advanced to be Transportation Agent in 1940. We were surprised to be reminded that we stayed at Old Faithful, not just in 1941, but also in 1942, when the war had begun to cut drastically into people’s summer vacation habits.

I cannot remember which events and impressions took place in which years, except that 1939 was quite different from the others. I believe we stayed in one of the tourist cabins that year in the group of them that were east and south of the ranger station/museum, long since torn down.

The main difference for us in 1939 was that that summer Mother (Margaret Inabnit Orvis) played in the Ladies’ Ensemble. More about that small musical group in the next post in this series . . . .


The full article “Celebrating an Old Faithful Area Seventieth Anniversary,” was published in August 2009 in The Geyser Gazer Sput, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 5-8.

Janet wrote a longer version of these memoirs at the instigation of Park Historian Lee Whittlesey, and they are now preserved in the library of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center in Gardiner, Montana.

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Linx Yellowstone bus service canceled for summer 2014

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According to a recent article in the Bozeman (MT) Chronicle: “The wheels on a bus service that shuttled Yellowstone National Park visitors into the park from gateway communities won’t be going around this year.” I’m sorry to hear this, since it was the only public transportation system that has been tried in many years, if not ever in Yellowstone.

For three summers LINX was supported with help from local agencies. Even so—as we learned when my daughter needed the service between West Yellowstone and Old Faithful—it was not inexpensive. But total revenues did not cover operating costs, proving that only with government (National Park Service) support could such a system survive.

I came up with a suggested plan for free or very inexpensive shuttle service for the west side of the park three years ago and even sent it to Park Superintendent Dan Wenk. Later I had a chance to speak with him about it, but, not surprisingly, he cannot consider such a thing in today’s economy. Here’s my plan.

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Hurray! Public transportation is coming to Yellowstone

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While today was opening day for Yellowstone’s major season, and tomorrow is the beginning of National Park Week, during which entrance fees will be waived, there is more good news.

From June 15th to September 30th this year [2012], visitors and park employees who want to or need to come to the park without a car can make connections between neighboring communities and points within Yellowstone on a system called LINX. This is not a tour company and is not government sponsored, but it surely answers a long-time need and makes a good start toward reducing traffic in the park.

You can buy a pass for one day for $20 or five days for $80. You can also connect from as far away as Salt Lake City, UT or simply between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone, for example, with vehicles running in each direction around the northern Grand Loop Road twice a day. For all the details, see their easily navigable website: http://www.linx.coop or call 877-454-5469.

My hope has been for several years to see a shuttle system in the most congested western part of this loop. Although I applaud the LINX system, it does not really solve the need to get from place to place within the park without a car. I’ve written a couple of blog posts about my ideas for park shuttles and even managed to sound off about it when I met Yellowstone Park Superintendent Dan Wenk during my January Tauck Tour in the park.

If you’d like to read what my long-term scheme for such a system might comprise, I posted about transportation in 2009 and 2011 on this blog. Of course, there are problems with any plan one might come up with, not the least of which is finding the money for it, but I feel there ought to be an ongoing dialog about Yellowstone shuttles.

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My ideas for a Yellowstone shuttle system

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Yellowstone Park needs a shuttle system!

Although I know that the National Park Service has in the past considered inaugurating shuttle service in Yellowstone to alleviate road congestion and cut down on carbon emissions, perhaps the following plan has not yet been broached. I suggest that only the west side of this vast park could be well served by such a system. Here is my plan for a way we could accomplish this.

I believe that providing a convenient shuttle service would greatly relieve summer congestion and would be used willingly by many visitors. Shuttle usage would be voluntary, and private vehicles and tour buses would continue to be allowed on the roads along with the shuttles. If the shuttle service were to be modeled after those at Yosemite, Bryce, and particularly Zion National Parks, it would be free. Having recently visited Zion and Bryce, I enquired how the system is paid for and was told that the equipment is owned by the National Park Service but operated by a concessionaire (at Bryce it is McDonald Transit Associates). Park entrance fees cover the expenses of running the shuttles.

Shuttle particulars proposed for Yellowstone

Shuttles could serve visitors along the roads between Mammoth in the north of the park and Old Faithful in the south central part. On this route are the majority of interesting hydrothermal features, as well as many other features of interest and hiking trailheads. All visitors who come in private cars, if they stay more than a day or two, usually want to visit much if not all of this region.

My plan would serve visitors who leave their vehicles overnight or for several nights at Mammoth, West Yellowstone, or Old Faithful, or in the campgrounds at Norris or Madison. New parking areas might be required in some of these areas and could charge a reasonable fee for their use, something on the order of five to ten dollars per day. This parking fee could help to cover the cost of the shuttle system. The shuttle itself would be free and useable by any visitors or staff. Thus, people could go into and out of the park on the same day or, if staying in the park, could take belongings with them on the shuttle for several days’ use while staying in park facilities.

Since no travelers who come from far away would want to carry all their belongings around while touring by shuttle, shuttle travel would have to be coordinated with the concessionaires at Mammoth and Old Faithful and with the management of private lodgings in West Yellowstone. In other words, visitors would leave most of their belongings at one of the three locations, in hotel/motel rooms if staying in the same place for several nights. Or if, for example, they wanted to stay one night in Mammoth or West Yellowstone and then stay a night or more at Old Faithful and return for their cars, baggage storage rooms could be provided at the motels and some space on the shuttles could be used for smaller baggage.

Ideally, simple lunch rooms would be built by the NPS and run by the park concessionaire at Norris and Madison, utilizing part of the already-disturbed land in the present large parking lots.

To make this plan work, I would propose that shuttles run at least every twenty minutes and for twelve hours per day between the end points, maybe from 9 am to 9 pm seven days a week. They should operate from mid June through mid September. A fleet of at least thirty electric, hybrid, or propane shuttles would be needed. There should be two round-trip routes: Mammoth campground to and from Madison Junction and West Yellowstone to and from Old Faithful Village, with correspondence at Madison. This system would require several dozen drivers. The shuttles would be large vans holding twelve to fifteen passengers. They would stop at every point along the roads that has something of general interest. Granted, this would mean a lot of stops, but the stops would mostly be very brief. Lesser-known features along the roads, such as the panoramic view at Swan Lake above Mammoth or the Chocolate Pots south of Norris Junction, should be included in the stops made by the shuttles.

Most people would want to spend an hour or two at the major geyser basins but could easily time their visits to have a minimal wait for the next van, if they were spaced twenty minutes apart. Covered shelters with some seating would be needed at shuttle stops.
Here is an example of potential pick-up/drop-off points between Mammoth and Norris:
Mammoth Campground
Mammoth Hotel
Upper Terrace Drive
Bunsen Peak and other trailheads near Rustic Falls
Swan Lake Flat panorama
Sheepeater Cliffs side road
Indian Creek Campground
Apollinaris Spring and picnic area
Obsidian Cliff
Mount Holmes trailhead
Solfatara trailhead
Grizzly Lake trailhead
Clearwater Springs
Roaring Mountain
Norris Campground
Norris Geyser Basin

A similar list of stopping points would be set up between other major places of interest or village areas with campgrounds or accommodations, where cars would be left. A total of 30 to 35 stops might be made between Mammoth and Old Faithful. In addition to the regular shuttles that make many stops, express shuttles would ferry staff and visitors to and from their vehicles at the end points three or four times a day.

This system might eliminate more than half of the cars that use the roads between Old Faithful and West Yellowstone and Mammoth, saving fuel and cutting congestion on the roads, and improving the air quality and the overall Yellowstone experience.

2011

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A shuttle system for Yellowstone?

Categories: Transportation
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[2011] In a week or so I’ll be going on my first-ever visit to Zion National Park. Besides wanting to see the incredible scenery and geology, I am interested in finding out just how the shuttle system they have there works.

I’ve felt for some time that Yellowstone could profit by having its own such system, but on a limited basis, since the park is so much larger than Zion—or Yosemite, which also uses shuttles. Yellowstone has a much more complicated array of roads than does either Zion or Yosemite, and most of Yellowstone’s roads are closed in winter, so a shuttle there needs to be limited to the most-traveled western section of the park and to the summer season.

I plan to post here about my idea for a workable shuttle in Yellowstone, when I return in mid May. Almost two years ago I wrote a post about ideas then being tossed about for something similar. Major changes like this do not come quickly.

This time, as gas prices and environmental concerns escalate, maybe I’ll send a letter about my plan and the need for action on creating a shuttle alternative, to the management of Xanterra, the park concessionaire, and to the new superintendent, Dan Wenk, who promises to be a decidedly forward-looking leader for Yellowstone. But I know he has a few other things on his plate!

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Thinking about a public transportation option for Yellowstone

Categories: Transportation
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An online forum message posted earlier this month [July 2009] on the New West website led to an extended discussion of how public transportation around Yellowstone and the Tetons could be managed.

Michael Pearlman began it, citing the propane-powered buses that shuttle visitors in Zion National Park and writing in part, “The public could also adapt to using public transportation in the Greater Yellowstone area during peak season, if it was offered. I’m not talking about traditional diesel-spewing school buses. I envision both parks embracing alternative fuel sources and green technology. Perhaps plug-in electric vehicles could be used, or the Park Service could work with emerging technology companies to showcase clean options. . . .”

Pearlman proposes: “In Yellowstone, buses could leave from West Yellowstone and make a loop following the interior roads of the park, allowing people staying in West Yellowstone motels, Old Faithful Inn and Yellowstone Lake Lodge to get out of their cars and take a bus to Old Faithful and the Upper Falls. In fact, I’d go further and completely ban private vehicles from Dunraven Pass, allowing only the bus service. You’d likely see a reduction in wildlife harassment within Yellowstone as well.

“Bus service in both parks could be operated by an outside concessionaire, but ideally, the cost of the bus ride would be included in park entrance fee. Even if there’s a small charge to passengers, there should be a strong incentive to use the service that should include access to areas where private vehicles are not allowed.”

I countered with the following post (slightly altered here):

I’m basically in agreement with Michael Pearlman’s plan for reducing the cars in Yellowstone and the Tetons, but something more is needed to create a plan that is both more effective and more palatable to tourists.
First, cars should not be banned (as some proposals suggest), since many people, especially locals, need to pass through or cannot easily use public transportation because of disabilities or because they are traveling with small children.
Second, what is needed is a really efficient shuttle service between Old Faithful and Norris Junction—or to cover the one hundred miles all the way north to Mammoth Hot Springs. This should be free or very inexpensive, perhaps financed with incentives to those who use it, such as asking families entering the park to pay ten dollars more for their park-entrance fee, for which they would receive a voucher good for shuttle travel. The schedule should provide a shuttle every twenty minutes in each direction, allowing people to get on and off at the thermal attractions all along the way.
As someone else pointed out, leaving cars in gateway communities would pose a burden to those towns, but some of that may be necessary, perhaps in paid parking lots or garages, part of whose profits could go toward support of the shuttle system. Other cars could be left in the existing in-park parking lots for people staying inside the park.

One knowledgeable person asked how many buses (or shuttles) it would take to run such a system. In doing a rough calculation, in which shuttles run every 20 minutes from 9:00 to 6:00 and take 3 hours for each run, I came up with about 20 vehicles (and perhaps twice as many drivers) needed to provide the service on the west side of the park.

Here’s the good news, according to Tim Young, who supplied this: “The future is closer than you think – an innovative Regional Transit option is underway, and it won’t cut into those that still choose (or must) drive.
“A Regional Transportation Co-Op has received $535,000 in funding from the Idaho Transportation Dept. via Stimulus ARRA funds. Led by the Yellowstone Business Council, with partners around the Greater Yellowstone, leaders will be gathering in West Yellowstone this week to map out the next steps.
“Look at the YBP website for more details – and get on board!”

I hope the park service, which has been tossing this subject around for years, will come up with a plan suited to the special needs of this very large area. It should eventually include visitors to the Tetons and should be appropriate to twenty-first century standards of green efficiency.

I’m about to leave for my favorite park, where, among many other things I”ll be doing, I’ll be celebrating the fact that this is the seventieth summer since I first lived in Yellowstone by spending July 25 and 26 (11:00 to 6:00) in the lobby of Old Faithful Inn, where I’ll be signing copies of Yellowstone Treasures for anyone who happens by.

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