Reservations at Yellowstone Park drop - Concessionaires blame confusion about new rules

Associated Press
Billings Gazette


CODY, Wyo. - Winter room reservations at Yellowstone National Park are down 16 percent this year, and the park's concessionaire blames confusion about new rules limiting snowmobiles.

"There's a big difference between this year and last," said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. "There are questions about where winter use is going. Last year, we knew what we could do in winter. There were no questions, no lawsuits. This year, we've got more confusion."

Hoeninghausen also blamed the economy, unrest in the Middle East and a trend toward later bookings for the dropoff.

The National Park Service decided in the waning days of the Clinton administration to phase out snowmobiles from Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.

Under pressure from a lawsuit filed by the snowmobile industry, the ban was soon reversed by the Bush administration. The Park Service has since decided to allow cleaner, quieter and fewer snowmobiles in the parks.

Just 950 snowmobiles will be allowed every day starting Wednesday, and commercially guided operators will be required to use cleaner and quieter machines to cut down on pollution.

Reservations are also now required to snowmobile in Yellowstone, and 80 percent of snowmobilers must be accompanied by guides.

"Some people are calling and asking us if the park is open this winter," Hoeninghausen said.

Hoeninghausen said many are confused about what they can and can't do.

Despite the overall drop in reservations, some time periods are booked solid with private parties. The weekend of Jan. 16 is sold out, as are two weekends in February. And t-he week of Christmas is nearly booked, Hoeninghausen said.

Openings are still plentiful entrances for guided parties, he said.

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