“HOUSTON; WE HAVE A PROBLEM!”
ALL HISTORIC PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
[PAGES IN THIS SECTION]
History of Snowmobiles | History of Snowplanes | History of Skis (Scandinavian Snow Shoes,) | History of Aquatic transportation – Commercial & Yachts & fishing | Snowmobile Wars – A Webliography | and on and on and on
(It’s impossible to discuss winter transportation and access without a brief review of Summer transportation. After all, It was Summer transportation that set the precedent for the attitude that motorized travel in Yellowstone was a birthright of any visitor.)
It seems simple enough. How does the National Park Service protect the resources of Yellowstone and still allow for people to enjoy those resources? Central to the resolution of the question is the concept of access.
It’s hard for the contemporary American visitor to the Park to believe; but once there were no roads in Yellowstone. Once there were only game trails. Then there were foot paths that followed the game trails. Of course the Shosohne, Bannock, and Nez Perce used these trails for horse travel. So too, the Cheyene, Blackfeet, Crow and Souix. So too, Coulter & Bridger.
As the stories of the geothermal features filtered to the population centers of America, visitors came. The horse trails became wagon roads. The horse, and buggy, and the Tally-Ho stagecoach demanded ‘improved’ roads.
The roads were improved. They went from geothermal feature to geothermal feature – with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and Yellowstone Lake as an aside. The commercial interests of the park provided transportation. They were soon challenged by locals from Billings, Bozeman, and other small settlements. These local challengers brought their own transportation – horses, buggy’s, buckboards, and even bicycles.
The first bicycle in the park was allowed only with an escort. It was resisted because it would pose a danger to the rider and pedestrians. It entered and rode around the Park; and the Horses survived. It got stuck; was pushed as much as peddled, and took to mud like a fish to air.
Not too much later some dignitaries used a car to access the developed centers of the park. Resistance was even greater to the automobile – on the same grounds. The horses were frightened; the pedestrians were endangered but the automobile had finally arrived.
The roads were just gravel and dirt, the dust was worse than the Tally-ho coaches churned up. Roads were improved. Traditionalists bemoaned the ruination of Yellowstone. Automobiles were just a curiosity for a long time – however the roads were improved with a view to motorized travel. (Access demands impact – however small.)
Specialized wagons to spray the dirt roads with water were deployed. At the west entrance raw oil and tar was poured on the dirt road to keep down the dust. It worked – after a fashion. The trend was set. Yellowstone would become a park for automobile access. No more horses, buckboards, Tally-ho’s, or other poop and dust producers. The wave of the future had overwhelmed the equestrian mentality.
Superintendents, and the Army, and the Railroads, (reluctantly,) all pitched in to bring motorized Americans to the park.
It was at this same time that the fishless streams got their first dose of invasive species. Smallmouth Bass were introduced, Brown Trout from both The British Isles and Germany were introduced, even char were brought west in the motorized aquaculture of the NEW WEST. Rainbow Trout from Idaho, California, Montana, and Wyoming were added to the mix. The park was wonderful because it could still have geysers and provide recreational fishing.
Resistance is futile, (access to what is perceived as desirable demands more impact – however large.) Anglophilic ‘swells’ had propagated a pastime that allowed the upper crust to practice a “blood sport” in the grand manner of British & Continental persuasions. Yellowstone was added to the grand tour.
It was a grand party for those that could afford it. Dancing in geyser pools, Taking chunks of geyserite back home to crumble on the mantles of Eastern Mansions, (even the Smthsonian Institution has a pile of dust that was once a geyser cone,) was a common practice. Who knows how many tons of Yellowstone adorn the collections of well intentioned citizens? Wonderland provided an elite diversion – well worth the expense. Good stories in the parlor were worth it all.
In hindsight there is much that should not have been allowed. The placement of roads for the convenience of stagecoach travel should not have dictated the placement of roads for motorized travel – but it did. The introduction of non-native fish should have been avoided, but wasn’t. Playing in the geothermal features was universal – dangerous – destructive, and a constant attraction. Throwing handkerchiefs in geysers was a senseless diversion. Hot spring cabins for baths on the mammoth terraces was a destructive practice
Harvesting game and fish to feed visitors, staff, and bears was certainly intemperate, but expedient. The development of enormous population centers within the Park was certainly a mistake, but it brought money and affluent visitors.
The grand hotels, Inns, Lodges, and dinning facilities became attractions unto themselves. Hell, even a viewing platform was included on the roof of the Inn at Old Faithful.
Expansion of these population centers and luxury accommodations continues today. The “villages” or “convenience clusters” within Yellowstone National Park contain populations larger than some of the gateway communities.
The attendant infrastructure such as turd whirlers, roads, sewers, telephone lines, electricity, cell phone towers, access roads, access paths, ranger stations, back country cabins, employee taverns, employee housing, visitor centers, parking lots, RV hook-ups, etc. continue to grow and the growing footprint is impacting something – sacrificial parts of the park? (Keep this in mind – access demands impact – no matter how small.)
The people that performed these acts were not malicious demons, (for the most part.) They were American Citizens, exploiting their park, as was their birthright. They learned later of the irreparable damage. They learned it from us, and others – though they are long dead.
By the time that the automobile had become an accepted part of the park plan the stage was set to sacrifice parts of the landscape to the accommodations of visitors. Ground was disturbed to build the hotels, the visitor centers, the parking lots, the camp grounds, the roadside telephones, the paved viewing areas, and of course the gas stations to service the automobiles.
As time passed and the world was consumed by two world wars, development in the park would progress at various tempos, depending on the temper of the population and the whim of congress. The worst was yet to come.
After World War II, Americans took to the road with a frenzy. The seashore, the mountains, the parks, the deserts, the rivers, the streams – all were destinations of a frenzied mobile population. The National Park Service was overwhelmed by demand.
Two significant cultural trends began to emerge in post war America. The population became more highly educated than ever before, (Wiser? That’s another question.) And the affluent population boomed and became fixated on the Automobile. These trends have continued, and continue to influence the perception of the parks and the uses to which they are put.
Despite the best logic and science, Americans tend to want things from their parks that cannot be provided – WITHOUT IMPACT – which they also profess to want.
.MORE TO COME.
.TRAVEL & ACCESS PAGE 2.