By now it's become an annual winter ritual, as predictable as the bears going into hibernation -- I'm talking, of course, about the never-ending battle over snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. The forces of recreational-correctness want the machines incrementally banned, claiming they disturb the serenity, while the gateway towns that rely on winter tourists argue that capping the number of machines is capricious, unsupported by science and bad for the bottom line. So the arguments go, year after year, with snowmobile limits rising or falling (mostly the latter) depending on the most recent Park Service mandate or judge's ruling.
But perhaps there's a common sense solution that's been out there all along -- one that should have been considered years ago. Why not just plow the most popular routes during winter, allowing motorized access? It's an option many locals want the Park Service to seriously consider, as it begins drafting a new winter travel plan. Cars and SUVs are cleaner-burning than snowmobiles. They don't seem to disturb wildlife, judging from the roadside animal-watching that goes on in summer months. And the Park Service already plows an access road from the park’s north entrance.
Sounds like a sensible solution, all in all -- which is why it will probably be rejected by the public lands exclusionists, who will use any rationalization, no matter how flimsy, to limit public access to "public land." Just because they can say "no" they will say "no." And they'll probably say "no" to this idea, too. It's what separates the zealots from the reasonable people.