Confusion Over Ban Hurting West Yellowstone

Confusion Over Ban Hurting West Yellowstone

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John Hollenhorst reporting A recent court ruling has left some confusion over an upcoming ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park.

The machines are allowed in the park this year. But we found the confusion is helping undermine nearby businesses.

You might call it "Marriage, Yellowstone Style." The wedding carriage is a Snowcoach. The bride & groom are South Dakotans, on their way to tie the knot in Yellowstone.

Sharla Elgin Lemmon, S.D.: "I love this park, this was it for me. And i love him. And this where we're going to do it at."

Next year, snowcoaches will be the only way to motor in to Old Faithful in winter.

But right now, snowmobiles are still being allowed.

John Sacklin Yellowstone Planning Chief: "People are confused, yes. And we're trying to help that by telling them the park is open and welcoming them to come and visit. "

Originally, the Clinton administration ordered a total phase-out of snowmobiles. The issues were smoky exhaust, noisy engines and conflicts with wildlife. The Bush administration changed course, ordering a compromise. Cleaner, quieter, fewer snowmobiles.

Jonathan Wiesel Travel Writer & Skier: "Going to Old Faithful now is a different world. It's a much more pleasant experience."

But late last month, a federal judge reinstated the Clinton phase-out.

This year, only 278 snowmobiles per day are allowed through the West entrance. All must follow a guide to promote safety and respect for wildlife.

John Sacklin/Yellowstone planning chief: "The experienced guides know how to guide a group around a herd of bison that might be on the road."

But next year, guided or not, there will be no snowmobiles in the park. Unless of course, the courts turn things upside down again."

Scott Carsley Yellowstone Alpen Guides: "It's been a pretty bleak winter for a lot of folks."

Scott Carsley says he's doing fine in the snowcoach business.

But most merchants in West Yellowstone are hurting. The Chamber of Commerce says business is off 20 to 60 percent.

Uncertainty may be keeping snowmobilers away to the point that Yellowstone seldom reaches its daily limit.

Scott Carsley / Yellowstone Alpen Guides: "This controversy, I'm sure, is on a lot of people's minds. And they're unsure of what they're going to get when they come."

Travel writer Jonathon Wiesel says the consensus in town is it's a disaster.

Jonathan Wiesel Travel Writer & Skier: "For West Yellowstone it's going to be lethal. So what they're going to do, I'm sure is start to diversify."

And that's the greatest uncertainty. How well and how soon will businesses adjust to the new political realities.

The administration ... has filed a notice of appeal, in the court case. But, the next decision ... could be a year away.

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