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All posts tagged plan

SPRING CLOSURES—roads close for plowing
February 28: East Entrance
March 1: Mammoth to Norris road
March 2: Madison-Norris-Canyon road
March 16: South Entrance

SPRING/SUMMER SEASON ROAD OPENINGS
April 18: West Entrance
May 2: East Entrance
May 9: South Entrance

Note that not all hotels, cabins, and campgrounds open when the roads do.
For information about this year’s facility openings, see
the National Park Service’s Plan Your Visit page for Yellowstone.

Winter plans when it’s still early summer

Categories: News, On the Web, Transportation, Trip planning, Winter
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My deadline with the copyeditor of Yellowstone, Land of Wonders having been met, I am free to catch up on all the current Yellowstone news.

Unlike other western areas this month [June 2012], no fires threaten the park yet, but it is still early, and if drought and heat continue there will certainly be danger.

While we watch the summer scene, some people are thinking about the winter one, and a long and excellent article appeared this week about the still-unsettled plan for snowmobile and snowcoach access next winter. You can find all the details at: http://www.yellowstonegate.com/2012/06/yellowstone-draft-winteruse-plan-allows-110-transportation-events-daily-keeps-sylvan-pass-open.

Scroll down on that site for a list of all the documents on winter use since discussion began in 2000.
In brief: a plan preferred by the park service has been put forth that states that there may be “a maximum of 480 snowmobiles in the park” but “the average maximum use would be 342 snowmobiles per day.” It gets more complicated from there on and now calls what were “sound events,” “transportation events.” An improvement in language?

Some groups of snowmobiles led by unpaid guides would be allowed in each day, in addition to professionally guided tours. The East Entrance over Sylvan Pass (always a controversial subject) would remain open in winter.

Public meetings on the subject will be held in mid July, and comments from the public will be received for 45 days.

My ideas for a Yellowstone shuttle system

Categories: Transportation
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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

A shuttle system for Yellowstone?

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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!

Wolves and bison, oh, my!

Categories: News, Science, Wildlife
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Just in time for National Park Week (April 16-24, 2011), when entry to Yellowstone and all other parks is free to all visitors, things have changed for the Northwest’s wolves and bison. First, the agreement between conservation groups and the U.S. Department of the Interior concerning the wolves (that I wrote about on April third) was rejected in the courts. Then this week, as broadcast in the national news, the budget agreement passed by Congress includes an unprecedented delisting of wolves from their endangered status—an act that has until now been the prerogative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency. Democratic senators Tester and Baucus from Montana signed on to the plan, stating that they had put aside their differences and worked on a responsible, common-sense plan.

Admittedly, the estimated 1700 wolves now living in the northwestern states exceeds by many times the goal stated when gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995. They have restored ecological balance, and they appear to be resilient and adaptable, although in the interim their numbers have both grown and diminished, mostly from natural causes. Environmental organizations will now devote their energies to being sure that state management of wolves is “based on sound science and public involvement to ensure they continue to fill their ecological niche on the landscape,” to quote Mike Clark of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Meanwhile:
An agreement on April 14th now gives Yellowstone bison access to 75,000 acres of land north of the park, although much of that land is not suitable for grazing. Says the National Park Traveler’s Kurt Repanshek: “Under the agreement laid out Thursday, park bison will be allowed to roam roughly 13 miles north of the park to Yankee Jim Canyon, a natural pinch-point in the landscape. There a cattle guard has been installed across the highway to discourage bison from moving further north along the road, while fencing is to be erected on U.S. Forest Service land abutting the road to keep the bison from moving around the cattle guard.”

The most desirable land for grazing from a big ungulate’s point of view is north of Yankee Jim Canyon, where ranchers irrigate many delectable acres, but any bison that somehow wanders around the fencing will be shot, according to the new plan. Still, this should be an improvement over previous arrangements for those bison who migrate north of the park in bad winters.

Winter travel in Yellowstone is almost over

Categories: Transportation, Trip planning, Winter
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[March 2011] Wanting to keep my readers informed, I’ll pass on the fact that you have only six more days this season to enjoy going through Yellowstone by snowcoach or snowmobile. All such travel ends at 9 pm next Tuesday, March 15, and plowing the roads will begin when conditions make it feasible, readying the roads for their gradual opening to cars and buses, beginning on April 15.

Hotels and cabins are already closed at Old Faithful and Mammoth; they are the only in-park winter accommodations.

The long-term plan for oversnow travel should be coming out in Draft Environmental Impact Statement form in a few weeks, followed by a sixty-day comment period. The National Park Service intends to finish the plan and issue any new winter use regulations before the start of the 2011-2012 winter season. I’m very interested to see what they decide upon and will keep you informed when decisions are made. 


Plans for my own summer visit have been made for some time already and will include an all-day book-signing in Old Faithful Inn on Sunday, July third.

Snow bikes

Categories: On the Web, Transportation, Winter
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Behold! Another mode of transportation I didn’t know existed: a snow bicycle, in particular one made by Surly Bikes. This is not a commercial, and I know very little about bikes, but it seems like an interesting idea to me. Here’s what I read about it:

Recently, 53-year-old Rick Buchanan was turned away when he tried to lead a group of snow cyclists into Yellowstone National Park.
Tim Reid, Yellowstone’s chief ranger, told Buchanan that the bike is not an approved means of winter travel, therefore, the group could not ride in the park. Under Yellowstone’s winter management plan, one can only enter the park by approved snowmobiles, snowcoaches, cross-country skis, or snowshoes. But the snow bike has actually been gaining popularity in the past 5 years.

My hope is that the park authorities will get in step with this new possibility and begin allowing them into the park during the winter season.
For more details, see “Snow Cyclists in Yellowstone.”

2011

Wolves and grizzlies of Yellowstone again making the news

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The top of the food chain is always the most controversial. Last week [August 2010], U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Montana overturned last fall’s decision by the Interior Department to remove the gray wolf’s Endangered Species protective listing. The previous decision had resulted in the states of Montana and Idaho holding wolf hunts that saw the deaths of several hundred wolves, while wolves in Wyoming (outside of the national parks) were still protected, since Wyoming’s delisting plan had been deemed unacceptable.

Judge Molloy’s August 5th decision centered around his ruling that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cannot list only part of a species as endangered while another part is left on the list. As stated on the National Parks Traveler’s website: www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2010/08/federal-judge-overturns-federal-governments-delisting-gray-wolf-endangered-species-act-protection6366, “conservation groups . . . have maintained that a sound wolf recovery program couldn’t sustain itself, genetically, without two or three times the estimated 1,500 or so wolves loping about Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming,” but this latest ruling “surely will infuriate some groups that see wolves as nothing more than four-legged killing machines.”

Meanwhile, grizzly bears were returned to the Endangered Species Act list, also last fall, due to another ruling negating their delisting due to the adverse effects of global warming on the bears’ ability to find food. The terrible death and maulings by a grizzly sow in a campground near Cooke City, Montana this month might have been related to the sow being malnourished, but the direct cause was probably her associating people with easily obtained food. A photographer had been baiting the bear shortly before that tragedy occurred. The marauding bear is now dead and her three cubs placed in the Billings zoo.

Thinking about a public transportation option for Yellowstone

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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.