Park Service releases winter use plan governing snowmobile, snow coach access to Yellowstone

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. – The National Park Service on Tuesday released a new policy on winter access to Yellowstone National Park that moves away from the current strict limits on daily numbers of individual snowmobiles and focuses instead on groups of people who use snowmobiles and snow coaches to enter the park.

The policy will take effect in the winter of 2014-2015 and follows years of planning and months of public comment. As a result, the details took nobody by surprise.

“Although the plan may not be perfect — few things are — it does protect Yellowstone’s resources, while also allowing the public to access this amazing place in the winter,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said in a prepared statement.

Instead of the current strict daily limits on snowmobiles in Yellowstone, the new plan will regulate winter traffic through so-called “transportation events.” A transportation event is defined as either a group of up to 10 snowmobiles or one snow coach. A snow coach is an enclosed snow machine that can carry multiple passengers.

Snowmobiles will be allowed to account for no more than 50 daily transportation events. No more than 110 transportation events per day will be allowed.

The plan also allows one group of up to five unguided snowmobiles through each park entrance each day.

Starting in 2015, snowmobiles must have the best available pollution-control equipment to be allowed inside Yellowstone. Snow coaches will need to be fitted with the best pollution controls starting in 2016.

Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk called the new policy a “balanced and flexible” plan that will work for tour operators and park visitors while protecting the park’s landscapes.