….History Of Snowmobiles in Yellowstone

Excerpted From: Snow machines in the gardens: The history of snowmobiles in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks — {{ Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Autumn 2003 by Michael J. Yochim }}


Shards Of metal lay on the snow next to the machine, and the acrid smell of gunpowder permeated the air. The snowmobile was seriously injured.

Late one December night in 1974 on Marias Pass, Glacier National Park ranger Art Sedlack put a bullet through a snowmobile. With this shot, Sedlack not only gained the upper hand in dealing with group of law-breaking snow-mobilers, he also became an instant hero to all who valued wilderness. At heart, though, Sedlack’s shot revealed the conflict Glacier officials faced over the question of snowmobile use in the park. In October 1975 Superintendent Phillip Iversen announced the decision to ban the use of snowmobiles in the park.

At the same time, about four hundred miles to the south, Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Jack Anderson was busily taking steps to allow snowmobiles into the park: opening a hotel at Old Faithful for winter use, maintaining roads for snowmobiles, and formulating a formal policy. Ariderson was personally fond of snowmobiling, touting it as “a great experience and a great sport, one of the cleanest types of recreation I know.” To him, snowmobiling was the solution to a thorny dilemma: how to allow wintertime visitors to use the park without impairing it.1

The actions of the National Park Service (NPS) in these two parks were in conflict with each other-and yet were both defensible in light of the agency’s mission “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”2

One park leaned toward preservation while the other veered toward visitor accommodation. uscpc-bombardier-ca-1940.jpgOne park chose to accommodate visitors on skis while the other accommodated them on snowmobiles-and both decisions were heavily influenced by local opinion.

Although snowmobile prototypes had been around since the 1940s, in the early 1960s design improvements led tofudge-snow-sedan-ca-1941.gif the first mass marketing of the machines in the upper Midwest. Introduced at a time when the country’s baby-boomers were reaching maturity, the snowmobile’s popularity grew rapidly. They were the winter equivalent of the automobile, the machine that embodied Americans’ infatuation with freedom and independence. ingham-motor-toboggan-1956.gifNow, with snowmobiles to ride, Americans could explore their country in winter-and without the work that cross-country skiing entailed. The number of snowmobiles increased from fewer than a hundred thousand in 1965 to almost 2 million by Christmas 1971.3bosak-power-toboggan.jpg

Conservationists nationwide decried the explosion of snowmobile use and clamored for regulation of the machines.4 Early snowmobiles typically had two-stroke engines that were both noisy and polluting, traits that brought them into conflict with cross-country skiers, who generally sought a quiet, contemplative experience. Though Congress investigated the matter and called for a resolution, members failed to enact it.5 President Nixon, however, answered public concern in 1972 by issuing Executive Order 11644. The “Use of Off-Road Vehicles on the Public Lands” order instructed agency heads to issue regulations that ensured off-road-vehicle trails and areas were situated so as to minimize wildlife harassment, conflicts with other users, and damage to vegetation and soils. The order noted that noise should be kept in mind when locating trails and that managers should only allow off-road vehicle use if it “will not adversely affect the natural, aesthetic, or scenic values of the managers’ lands.”6 An extension of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the executive order carried the force of law.

In 19741973-cheeta.jpg, probably in reaction to Nixon’s order, acting Rocky Mountain Regional Director Glen Bean directed all NPS superintendents in his region to prepare an environmental statement regarding snowmobile use.7 In Glacier that directive precipitated a controversy: the park had to decide how to reconcile snowmobilers’ use of the park with skiers’ demands for winter tranquility. To some observers, Art Sedlack’s solution seemed the best option.

1974-snowpro.jpgViolations of federal and state law banning the use of snowmobiles on highways were common on the three-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 2 that lay inside the park boundary. On the night of December 27, 1974, Sedlack observed four snowmobilers on that stretch and warned them not to use the road to re-enter the park, but an hour later he again heard their roar. Jumping into his four-wheel-drive patrol vehicle, Sedlack gave chase. When two of the snowmobilers stopped on the roadway to let their engines cool, Sedlack plowed his rig into a snow bank and stepped out to confront them. As Sed-lack approached Ed Peterson and Jim Van De Riet, the danger of the situation sank in: he was the only law enforcement ranger within miles, confronting men who were possibly intoxicated and dangerous. He needed to establish control over the situation. Sedlack first tried to disable a snowmobile by pulling out a spark plug. When that effort failed, he pulled out his .38 caliber pistol and effectively disabled the machine. He then cited the men, who each paid a twenty-five-dollar fine.8

Within a day, the Associated Press had broadcast news of the shooting nationwide, and Sedlack quite unintentionally became a hero. In the nearby Flathead Valley, home to many cross-country skiers, his shot was memorialized by a parade float in Whitefish’s winter carnival. Park officials received numerous letters, all in support of the ranger, and Sedlack himself received countless supportive letters, some containing monetary contributions. Montana Senator Lee Metcalf privately congratulated him. The Montana Wilderness Association even created an award in his honor-the Sedlack Award, given annually to the person (or being) committing the most outrageous act in defense of wilderness.9

Sedlack’s actions also drew attention from fellow NPS employees. Yellowstone Park naturalist Paul Schullery suggested that Sedlack “had just done what we all had wanted to do, many times. Shooting the machine, someone remarked, was even better than shooting the driver. . . . There was no question in our minds that the man was a hero. There was talk of taking up a collection and buying him a [M]agnum. And a few days after the incident, a little note appeared on the ranger office bulletin board: ‘Snow machines will not be shot. They will be live-trapped.'”10

Meanwhile, Sedlack was suspended for two weeks without pay, and the NPS held a hearing on the shooting. According to Sedlack, the Park Service reached no conclusion but did send him to the NPS law enforcement academy shortly thereafter.11

omc.gifRegulating snowmobile use in Glacier was not a new problem. Since the late 1960s as many as 1,393 snowmobilers visited Glacier each winter. Snowmobilers could use all of the park’s miles of unplowed roads, with the exception of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Lake McDonald to the Jackson Glacier Overlook. However, by 1972 the number of snowmobilers was declining. At the same time, the number of cross-country skier visits increased from 877 in 1972-1973 to 2,998 two winters later.12

In 1974 Glacier administrators began to draft the requested environmental assessment on snowmobile visitation. Aware that Superintendent Anderson had formally designated Yellowstone’s interior roads as snowmobile routes that year, Glacier Acting Superintendent Richard Munro wrote to Yellowstone officials requesting any Yellowstone studies evaluating the effects of snowmobiles on wildlife. Munro assumed that the park had also completed an environmental assessment of snowmobile use. In reality, Yellowstone managers did not formally study the environmental impact of snowmobiles until the late 1980s. Failing to obtain information from Yellowstone, Glacier officials turned to the flurry of scientific studies that had resulted from the sudden growth in snowmobile use in the Midwest.13

The Glacier environmental assessment concluded that winter stress determined population levels for many, if not most, wildlife species in the park and that snowmobile disturbances caused wildlife to lose body weight and increased their susceptibility to disease. Deer used snowmobile tracks to move from one area to another, and elk avoided and even ran from snowmobiles, keeping distances of at least a half mile between themselves and snowmobile areas. Compacted snow kept birds from roosting and displaced subnivean mammals such as mice and voles. Another problem was that poachers used snowmobiles to hunt and trap wildlife on the east side of the park. Vegetation could suffer as well, both through mechanical damage such as crushing and through compaction, which reduces the amount of insulating air in the snowpack.14

The environmental assessment also noted two administrative problems created by snowmobiles. By compacting the snow on the roads, snowmobiles made spring plowing more difficult, and if snowmobile use increased, trail maintenance would be necessary to smooth the roller-coaster surface that developed on the roads. Yellowstone colleagues may have informed the authors on this matter. Snowmobiles had been allowed in Yellowstone for years, and for the last three or four years the park had been forced to groom heavily traveled routes. Plowing the hard-packed snow in spring was becoming increasingly difficult.15

Broadening the environmental assessment beyond scientific findings, park officials included a lengthy discussion of snowmobile impacts on visitors’ qualitative experiences. The document rioted that snowmobile noise disturbed the aesthetic experience of the snowshoer or skier. For these visitors, solitude and quiet were valuable resources. Moreover, snowmobile air emissions lingered on still days and were offensive to people and wildlife. Finally, although snowmobiles made the park accessible to the old, very young, and physically handicapped, their use conflicted with that of other, more numerous park users.16

When the draft assessment was complete, Glacier officials held two meetings to seek public input. In November 1974 eighty-seven people attended a meeting in West Glacier. Participants’ comments echoed park officials’ concerns about the effects of snowmobiles on wildlife, vegetation damage, noise, and aesthetics. They generally favored closure. More than fifty people attended the meeting in Cut Bank. Most people there were in favor of continued snowmobile use. Snowmobilers may have been more common east of the park because farmers and ranchers used the machines in their work.17

After receiving public comment, Superintendent Phillip Iversen’s staff revised the document and opened it up for written comments. During the comment period, they received 438 letters and petitions with 976 names that stood in opposition to snowmobiling. Twenty-two letters arid petitions with 691 names favored the continued use of snowmobiles in the park.18

With a majority clearly opposed to snowmobile use, Superintendent Iversen announced a ban on snowmobiles on October 2, 1975. old_ski_nord.jpgHe used the decline in snowmobile visitation and the increase in skier visitation as justification for his decision, but the primary reason for the ban was snowmobile noise.19 Solitude, peace, and tranquility were resources identified with the winter experience in Glacier, and more than anything else it was the disruption of these that swayed decision-makers. Glacier wilderness specialist Robert Morey echoed this reasoning at a talk given to the Montana Snowmobile Association a year later. He noted that “a different atmosphere prevails within this precipitous mountain country in winter.” Again and again over the next few years, Iversen and his staff would argue that snowmobiles usurped the park’s silence and were therefore unacceptable.20

Snowmobile supporters quickly questioned Iversen’s decision. Only a month after Iversen announced it, five snowmobilers from Conrad and Cut Bank appealed to him to rescind the decision. They questioned many of the reasons for the decision, noting in particular that a “localized prejudiced group” from Missoula had submitted an excessive number of letters, thereby altering the balance of public opinion. Iversen responded by defending his decision: “Glacier National Park takes on a completely different aspect when covered in a heavy mantle of winter snow. It is an entirely different situation than during summer months. Roads and trails are obliterated and the busy, densely used valleys of summer become the wilderness backcountry in winter.”21

Congressman John Melcher soon heard from his angry constituents, and he promised them that the NPS would hold public hearings on the matter. This promise upset Iversen, who suggested to Melcher’s staff that perhaps the snowmobilers had been “asleep at the switch.” Iversen felt that environmentalists in particular would view a new round of hearings as a capitulation to snowmobile advocates, who would not be satisfied with “anything less than a rather extensive opening.” He also feared losing the support of the “environmental groups and college kids” who were some of the park’s best supporters. Iversen hinted that Melcher’s request could tarnish the environmentalist image the congressman had adopted in his campaign for reelection.22

Nevertheless, Iversen eventually agreed to hold two more public meetings to verify that all information on the subject had been properly considered. In late May 1976 he and his staff held meetings in Kalispell and Great Falls to brief citizens on the reasons for the snowmobile ban and to review it after its first winter. Noting that the ban only became controversial after its enactment, Iversen warned that these meetings “may or may not change anything” and defended his decision as a difficult but correct one. The responsibility for the protection of the natural, aesthetic, and scenic values of national parks, Iversen reminded the audience, fell on his boss, the secretary of the interior, but he wanted to ascertain how the meeting participants defined these subjective values.23

At the two meetings, Iversen and his staff handed out questionnaires and accepted comments. These comments favored reopening the park (or a portion thereof) to snowmobile use. Following the meetings, administrators accepted written comments for another month. Overall these supported a ban on snowmobiles. One commentator was the industry advocate, the International Snowmobile Industry Association (ISIA). The association expressed the hope that the winter of 1975-1976 would be old_ski_guy.jpg“the sole period during which the majesty and beauty of Glacier in winter was denied to all Americans save the extraordinarily fit, those with unusually high amounts of free time and those who enjoy exclusively ski touring and snowshoeing.”24

Based on the second round of comments, Iversen retained the snowmobile ban. In one final act of public faith, though, he asked four citizens to review the public comments and confirm the accuracy of the analysis. Two representatives of the snowmobile interests, Richard Kullberg, president of the North Montana Outdoor Recreational Vehicle Association, and Lee Downes, former president of the Flathead Snowmobilers, and two representatives of environmental interests, Tom Horobik, president of the Montana Wilderness Association, and Eugene Albert, representative of the National Parks and Conservation Association, Flathead Coalition, and Sierra Club, reviewed letters, tapes, petitions, and data. The men reaffirmed the park’s decision. They also commended park staff for having done an outstanding job in compiling the data in as fair and unbiased a manner as possible.25

Glacier’s snowmobile ban became final with the publication of the closure notice in the May 3, 1976, Federal Register. With the ban, Glacier officials reaffirmed that subjective values regarding intangible resources were valid in decision-making when supported by park tradition.26

The no-snowmobile tradition in Glacier is by now well established, and the eliason-90.jpgNPS has continued to cite the preservation of winter silence as the main reason for maintaining the ban. Recently, Glacier administrators approved a general management plan that included a provision to stop plowing the portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road from Lake MacDonald to Avalanche Creek, in part to provide more terrain for cross-country skiers. The same plan also outlawed jet-skis and called upon the Federal Aviation Administration to restrict scenic overflights-both especially noisy forms of summer recreation. The park administrators continue to preserve their “canyons plumb full of hush.”27

early-snowplane-24.jpgIn Yellowstone, motorized winter tourism began slowly and informally just after World War II.28early-snowplane-22.jpg

Yellowstone’s first winter visitors ventured into the park in snowplanes in 1949. These one- or two-passenger vehicles attached to three or four skis had an enclosed cab and a small airplane engine mounted on the rear.The engine blew early-snowplane-23.jpgthe vehicle over the snow at speeds up to 140 miles per hour.

Ten- to fifteen-passenger snowcoaches (called snowmobiles at the time) came into use in 1955. bomb-in-yel-12.jpgOwned by West Yellowstone businesses, snowcoaches were the main way to tour the park into the late 1960s, and many are still in use today. Snowmobiles were first used in Yellowstone in 1963.29

bomb-in-yel-11.jpgIncreasing tourism and demands for visitor services led Superintendent Anderson to institutionalize the park’s winter use between 1968 and 1971. His program centered on providing public access by snowmobile or snowcoach. To encourage such visitation, in the early 1970s workers began regularly grooming roads and opened a hotel at Old Faithful. By 1982 they had expanded the grooming program and opened the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.30

Anderson was clearly excited about the touring potential offered by the snowmobile because the machines “finally let people see what a great experience it is bomb-in-yell-13.jpgto get out in the wintertime and really see the park,” and he was “a little upset with some of my fellow superintendents” because of their refusal to allow them in other national parks. In Anderson’s view, managers “just don’t want to get involved because it sets up a debate and . . . creates work.” He felt parks could accommodate winter tourism while leaving the park unimpaired. “We sometimes hear individuals say snowmobile operation in the park infringes upon the intrinsic majesty of the area, or threatens the wilderness characteristics of the park. I’d have to say they are wrong.”31

1963-skidoo.jpgAnderson’s statements may seem inflammatory today, but he truly believed that welcoming the snowmobile was a proper balancing of the NPS mission. Fear of the alternative likely motivated him as well-five times since 1932 civic groups near Yellowstone had called for the park to plow its roads.

If Anderson had not allowed visitors to tour the park on snowmobiles, 1965-rocket.jpgpolitical pressures would most likely have forced him to plow the roads. Plowing seemed a bad alternative because narrow roads provided little space for plowed snow, wildlife and drifting snow would be trapped in the deep trenches created by plowing, and visitors would not be able to see out of the trenches. Snowmobiles were the compromise, allowing people to see the park’s wonders without the impact of automobiles. Noting that he had been guided in the decision by the criteria in Executive Order 11644, Anderson designated all of Yellowstone’s roads south of Mammoth Hot Springs as official snowmobile routes on May 7, 1974.32

After Anderson retired in 1975, Glacier Superintendent Iversen and Yellowstone Assistant Superintendent Bob Haraden discussed the possibility of developing a joint statement to clarify the disparate snowmobile policies. No such statement was ever issued. 1977-skidoo.jpgAlthough Anderson’s successor, Superintendent John Townsley, recognized that the management policies, enabling legislation, and natural area guidelines for the two parks were similar and that the parks needed to reconcile their snowmobile policies, he preferred to defer to the Rocky Mountain Regional Office. In 1976 the NPS issued a statement justifying the differences based upon the unique geography and history of each park.33

By the 1980s Yellowstone’s snowmobile boosterism would come to haunt park managers. The formalized program along with promotional efforts by nearby communities and improvements in snowmobile technology led to rapid growth in winter visitation. manybiles.jpegBy the 1990s as many as seventy thousand machines carrying some eighty-five thousand visitors entered the park each winter.34 As a result, snowmobile noise could be heard throughout the backcountry, snowmobile exhaust threatened to place the park in violation of the Clean Air Act, and snowmobilers often came into conflict with wildlife and trespassed in the backcountry.35 Yellowstone’s last three superintendents have spent the past fifteen years attempting to control the situation. In 1990 and again in 2000 they issued winter-use plans with associated environmental assessments and environmental impact statements.

In a major policy change, the winter-use plan issued in 2000 proposed to ban snowmobiles from the park. wy-ch-pza.jpgThis idea was bitterly contested by many people, particularly residents of West Yellowstone, Montana, who largely depend on snowmobile income in the winter and advertise their community as the “Snowmobile Capital of the World.” Representatives Rick Hill of Montana and Barbara Cubin of Wyoming and Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming tried unsuccessfully to overturn or delay the ban in fall 2000. Snowmobile advocates had more success in the courts. In a 2001 settlement to a lawsuit brought by the International Snowmobile Manufacturer’s Association (descendant of the ISIA), the NPS agreed to prepare a supplement to the 2000 environmental impact statement, one that focused on new technology that could make snowmobiles cleaner and quieter.36

Yellowstone’s new superintendent, Suzanne Lewis (formerly of Glacier), announced a tentative direction for winter use in June 2002. The NPS will allow a limited number of snowmobiles into the park under three conditions. First, the Park Service will restrict the number of snowmobiles to numbers approximating average daily usage, which has been 950 entries for the last several years. Second, it will require that all machines use “best available technology,” at present four-cycle engines that reduce air and noise emissions. Finally, it will mandate that guides accompany snowmobilers touring the park.37

This proposal, however, has not brought the conflict to an end. A coalition of environmental groups, including the Greater Yellowstone Coalition of Bozeman, filed suit in March 2003 contesting the overturning of the 2000 proposed snowmobile ban. Business groups, while they have not yet sued, are not generally pleased with the limitation on numbers. Many Americans are upset that the NPS is not adhering to the will of the majority of those who commented on the supplemental EIS; more than 80 percent of the 335,000 comments were in favor of a snowmobile ban. Still, a comment period is not a voting booth, and the Park Service is not bound by the will of the majority. It appears for now that snowmobiles will remain in Yellowstone, at least in some form.38

Today, the loudest noise greeting wintertime visitors to Glacier is the wind, and the park is a quiet retreat from an increasingly motorized world, a place where “the imminent presence which broods over it and which is universally felt may best be described as peace.” Glacier’s success in banning snowmobiles was largely a product of the park’s geography and history. The fact that snowmobiling and a winter economy centered on it were not well developed made it much easier to ban snowmobiles. Glacier’s popularity among local cross-country skiers also aided park administrators in making the decision.

Yellowstone, by comparison, had allowed snowmobiles for more than a decade before Nixon issued his executive order, and the growing winter economy and related support base seemed to favor continued access. Iversen’s snowmobile ban in Glacier has preserved the park’s tranquility and, in so doing, retained Park Service control over Glacier’s winter-use policy. In contrast to Glacier, NPS control of Yellowstone winter visitation is today strained at best.39

The two parks’ histories illustrate the danger of allowing outside interests to have excessive influence over government policy. To make its policy work, Yellowstone has increasingly depended on West Yellowstone merchants to provide rental snowmobiles. While this did make possible a year-round economy, it also legitimized the influence of the community and its political representatives on park policy.

Glen Loomis, owner of one of the largest snowmobile rental businesses in West Yellowstone, told High Country News reporter Ray Ring that “this fight about snowmobiles in Yellowstone Park is not about protecting the park. It’s about power, money and who controls access, plain and simple.”40 As Loomis attests, the Park Service has lost significant control over its own policy and has been frustrated and redirected several times in the last decade over winter use.

The contrasting histories of snowmobile use in these two parks also illustrate the difficulty of adhering to the NPS’s Organic Act. Providing for visitation while protecting park resources is inherently difficult, especially in the face of increasing visitation. Both Glacier’s and Yellowstone’s decisions were the correct decisions for the time and place, and both arguably supported the NPS mission laid out in the Organic Act. But the policies have seen challenges over time and have had long-term consequences. In Glacier, while the snowmobile ban does protect silence, it also means that fewer people can experience the park in winter. Snowmobiling in Yellowstone, despite its problems, allows a wider segment of the public to experience the dazzling winter sights. Still, it is difficult for a modern Yellowstone winter visitor to find true wilderness there. Accounts of visitors hearing snowmobiles ten miles from the nearest road are common. Adhering to the two-fold mission has been difficult for both parks, but not necessarily more successful in Glacier.41

Yellowstone’s experience has taught the NPS to be cautious in permitting new forms of recreation in the parks. Today, Park Service decision-makers gauge whether new forms of recreation are suitable in the parks according to a written policy. The NPS promotes activities that are “inspirational, educational, or healthful, and otherwise [are] appropriate to the park environment” and forbids uses that impair park resources or values, or that “[a]re contrary to the purposes for which the park was established.”42 Park history and tradition provide the foundation for this policy. Decisions regarding the policy, however, must come from the complex morass of ecological, economic, and political agendas facing the NPS. Although the NPS now evaluates the effect that all uses will have on the level of noise in the parks, the controversies over determining what use constitute a policy violation threaten to disrupt the peace for which the parks are known.

1. Jack Andersen, “Transcript of Conversation, Jack Antlerson and Derrick Grandall,” interview by Derrick Grandall, April 1, 1977, in “Current Stuff” section, p. 5, “Snowmobile Briefing Book,” vol. 1, Yellowstone Research Library, Mammoth, Wyoming (hereafter Yellowstone Research Library).

2. An Act to Establish a National Park Service, and for other Purposes, 64th Cong., 1st sess., 1916, H.R. 15522.

3. Peter Harnik, “Funmobile Folly,” National Parks and Conservation Magazine, 46 (January 1972), 29-33. See also James J, Tuite, Snowmobiles and Snowmobiling (New York, 1969); and Malcolm F. Baldwin, The Off-road Vehicle and Environmental Quality (Washington, D.C., 1970). The idea that snowmobiles symbolize American freedom is my own.

4. Harnik, “Funmobile Folly,” 31; Les Line and James D. Perry, “Snowmobiles: Love ’em or Hate ’em,” National Wildlife, 10 (December-January 1972), 21-23; Malcolm F. Baldwin, “The Snowmobile and Environmental Quality,” Living Wilderness, 32 (Winter 1968-1969), 14-17.

5. Harnik, “Funmobile Folly,” 32. The purpose of Resolution 17158 was “to establish a national policy regarding recreational use of snowmobiles on public lands, to provide for a coordinated national snowmobile safety program, and for other related purposes.”

6. President, Executive Order 11644, Federal Register, 37 (February 8, 1972), 2877.

7. Acting Regional Director to Superintendents, Rocky Mountain Region, June 21, 1974, Glacier Accession 882, Snowmobile Environmental Assessment and Related Winter Use Records (hereafter Winter Use Records), unprocessed collection, Glacier National Park Archives, West Glacier, Montana (hereafter GNPA).

8. Dorothy Johnson, “Carefree Youth and Dudes in Glacier,” Montana The Magazine of Western History, 25 (Summer 1975), 48-59; Dorothy Johnson, “Christmas Letter from Missoula,” Ford Times, 69 (December 1976), 4-9; “Case incident report 740232,” December 28, 1974, GNPA; Art Sedlack, telephone interview by author, March 3, 1997. Sedlack considered the men dangerous because he suspected that they had been drinking at a nearby bar. The day after the shooting Sedlack and his supervisor, Robert Burns, met Peterson and Van De Riet and eventually they were able to get the snowmobile restarted.

9. Sedlack interview; Johnson, “Christmas Letter,” 6; Johnson, “Carefree Youth,” 59; Susan Miles, education coordinator for the Montana Wilderness Association, e-mail to author, April 8, 2002.

10. Paul Schullery, Mountain Time (Boulder, Colo., 1995), 191.

11. Sedlack interview. At the time, the NPS was just beginning to require formal training for gun-carrying rangers. Previously, new recruits learned gun protocol from experienced rangers.

12. Glacier National Park, “Environmental Assessment: Proposed Ovcrsnow Vehicle Use at Glacier National Park, Montana,” 1975, pp. 4-8, copy in Winter Use Records, GNPA.

13. Richard J. Munro to Superintendent, Yellowstone, November 25, 1974, Winter Use Records, GNPA; Michael J. Yochim, “The Development of Snowmobile Policy in Yellowstone National Park” (master’s thesis, University of Montana, 1998). Anderson probably felt that an environmental assessment was unnecessary because visitors had been visiting the park in the winter for more than twenty years.

14. J. Caslick and E. Caslick, appendix 2, in James Caslick, “Impacts of Winter Recreation on Wildlife in Yellowstone National Park: A Literature Review and Recommendations” (unpublished 1997 report submitted to the NPS Branches of Planning and Compliance, Natural Resources, and Resources Management and Visitor Protection), copy in Winter Use EIS files, National Park Service Planning Office, Mammoth, Wyoming; Glacier National Park, “Environmental Assessment,” 9-16.

15. Glacier National Park, “Environmental Assessment,” 9-16; staff meeting minutes, February 2, 1971, p. 3, file A-40, Conferences and Meetings, 1971, box A-37, National Archives, Yellowstone National Park, Mammoth, Wyoming (hereafter NA, YNP); Chief of Maintenance to Superintendent, April 9, 1969, file D-30, box D-168, YNP, NA.

16. Glacier National Park, “Environmental Assessment,” 9-16.

17. Glacier National Park, “Environmental Assessment,” 18; Nathaniel P. Reed to Honorable John Melcher, March 17, 1976, Winter Use Records, GNPA; Sedlack interview.

18. “Snowmobiling in Glacier National Park” briefing statement, 1985, copy available from Chief Park Ranger’s Office, Glacier National Park, Montana. Of the written comments opposing snowmobiles, 121 mentioned wildlife impacts, 125 noise concerns, 65 skier-snowmobile conflicts, 28 air pollution, 38 vegetation damage, and 51 aesthetics in general.

19. “Closure of Snowmobile Routes” public notice, October 2, 1975, Winter Use Records, GNPA.

20. G. Robert Morey, talk given to the Montana Snowmobile Association, Lewistown, Montana, February 14, 1976, Winter Use Records, GNPA. The organization took pains to run a businesslike meeting, and Morey’s talk was well received,

21. Charles D. Bliss et al. to Phillip Iverson [sic], November 8, 1975, Winter Use Records, GNPA; Phillip Iverseri to Charles D. Bliss, November 19, 1975, ibid.

22. Phillip Iversen, “Superintendent’s Notes to the Files, Subject: Snowmobile Ban,” 3-17-76,” Winter Use Records, GNPA; Phillip Iversen, “Superintendent’s Notes to the Files, Subject: Snowmobile Ban, 3-376 [sic],” ibid.; Phillip Iversen, “Superintendent’s Notes to the Files, Subject: Snowmobile Ban, 3- 15-76,” ibid.

23. “Snowmobiling in Glacier National Park” briefing statement; “Introduction by Superintendent Iversen,” public meetings on Snowmobiles, May 25, 1976, Winter Use Records, GNPA. See also Hungry Horse (Mont.) News, August 5, 1976.

24. Derrick A. Crandall to Philip R. Iversen, July 2, 1976, Winter Use Records, GNPA.

25. “Snowmobiling in Glacier National Park” briefing statement,

26. Federal Register, 41, no. 86 (May 3, 1976), 18334. Another threat to the Glacier ban, albeit a less significant one, came in 1981 when James Watt became secretary of the interior and Montana snowmobile enthusiasts renewed their calls to overturn the ban. Iversen’s successor, Robert Haraden (previously Yellowstone’s assistant superintendent) told them that if they had new information to merit the change, he would consider it. Although he expected them to produce such evidence and to advocate opening the park to snowmobiles one weekend per month, they never contacted him, and the park remained closed to snowmobiles. Robert Haraden, interview by author, Bosseman, Montana, November 11, 1997.

27. “Snowmobiling in Glacier National Park” briefing statement; United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Final General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, Glacier National Park Glacier National Park, Mont., 1999), 61 71, quote on p. 64; Suzanne Lewis, Yellowstone superintendent and former Glacier superintendent, interview by author, Mammoth, Wyoming, September 10, 2002.

28. The controversy over snowmobiles in Yellowstone bears some resemblance to the debate about allowing automobiles into the park. At the turn of the century, automobiles were banned from the park because of fears that they could not handle road conditions and worries about their effect on stagecoach and horseback visitors. The ban stayed in effect until Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane ordered Yellowstone to admit automobiles in 1915. On August 1 the park formally admitted the machine into the garden, making Yellowstone the last national park to allow them, Aubrey Haines, The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, rev. ed., 2 vols. (Niwot, Colo., 1996), 2:263-71.

29. There are several differences between winter tourism in Yellowstone and Glacier. In Yellowstone tourism started earlier, and tourists visited in greater numbers. Also, because Yellowstone’s topography is generally flatter than Glacier’s and fewer avalanche zones cross roads, winter use is inherently safer. Yochim, “Development of Snowmobile Policy,” 22-29. See also Robert S. Halliday, “Yellowstone in Winter,” Parade, March 13, 1955, 10-11.

30. Yochim, “Development of Snowmobile Policy,” 48-115.

31. Jack Anderson, “Transcript of Conversation,” 5-7.

32. Lavett (Wyo.) Chronicle, January 21, 1932; Horace Albright to Agnes Chamberlain, February 12, 1932, file 630-02.2, Snow Removal (Road Conditions) (Snow Depths, Etc.) F.Y. 1930-1931 and 1932, box D-181, NA, YNP; Yochim, “Development of Snowmobile Policy,” 45-46; Federal Register, 39, no. 89 (May 7, 1974), 16151. The park road from the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana, to the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City had been plowed since the late 1940s, providing access to a part of the park where there are few thermal features and no geysers.

33. Phillip Iversen, “Superintendent’s Notes to the Files, Subject: Snowmobile Ban,” February 4, 1976, Winter Use Records, GNPA; Morey, Montana Snowmobile Association talk; “Snowmobile Use” regional position paper, September 20, 1976, Winter Use Records, GNPA.

34. Forty to sixty thousand additional visitors tour the park each winter, either by snowcoach or by driving the plowed road between the North Entrance and Cooke City, Montana.

35. Yochim, “Development of Snowmobile Policy,” 10-14; Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle, March 15, 2002. The Clean Air Act designates all national parks as Class 1 airsheds, which requires the strongest protection of air quality. Enacted in 1970 and amended in 1977 and 1990, the act regulates six air pollutants: particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and lead.

36. Yochim, “Development of Snowmobile Policy,” 147-75; Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle, June 15, 13, December 16, 20, 2000, March 30, 2002.

37. Billings (Mont.) Gazette, June 26, 2002.

38. Denver Post, June 22, 2002; John Sacklin, National Park Service supervisory outdoor recreation planner, interview by author, Mammoth, Wyoming, July 26, 2002. As of this writing, the lawsuits have not yet gone to trial.

39. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Final General Management Plan, 64.

40. Ray Ring, “Move over!” High Country News, April 1, 2002, 1.

41. “Snowmobiles Create Inescapable Roar in Yellowstone,” National Parks Conservation Association press release dated March 9, 2000, available at http://www.npca.org; Yochim, “Development of Snowmobile Policy,” 140.

42. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Management Policies 2001 (n.p., 2001), 80-81.

MICHAEL J. YOCHIM is a doctoral candidate in geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an employee of Yellowstone National Park. He is researching interest-group influence on national park policy-making through several Yellowstone case studies, including winter use.

Copyright Montana Historical Society Autumn 2003
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Bibliography for “Snow machines in the gardens: The history of snowmobiles in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks”
Yochim, Michael J

Snow machines in the gardens: The history of snowmobiles in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks“. Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Autumn 2003. FindArticles.com. 17 Oct. 2006. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3951/is_200310/ai_n9338664


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    Additional Resources:

David’s Vintage Snowmobile Page

Antique & Classic Snowmobile Club of Canada

History of Snowmobiles (As the Snow Flies)

Eliason Snowmobiles (Exceptional history of the early ones)

Greenwater Report (Snowplanes)

Sledder Al’s vintage snowmobiles

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