By Billings Gazette
With the fewest number of snowmobilers ever allowed in winter, Yellowstone National Park still saw an 8 percent increase in visitation over last year thanks to increased snowcoach traffic.
According to the National Park Service, 93,838 winter tourists visited Yellowstone this season compared to 86,784 the previous year.
Overall, however, the number of tourists still remained below the winter levels of 2007-2008 when 99,975 people entered the park.
Visitation may have been higher if snow had fallen earlier and stayed later. Low snow limited the number of days snowmobiles and some types of snowcoaches could enter the park.
In total, 22,228 snowmobilers entered the park, down from 23,417 in 2008-2009. Snowcoach visits rose only slightly, climbing from 18,963 last year to 20,388 this season. Two years ago, 22,344 snowcoach riders entered the park.
The light snow year may also account for the increase in people who came by car through the park's North Entrance from December through March. Traffic through the entrance at Mammoth, Wyo., jumped to 54,437 compared to 47,259 in the previous year. In 2007-2008, the number was 50,175.
For two years, Yellowstone is operating under a temporary winter use plan, allowing up to 318 commercially guided, best available technology snowmobiles and 78 commercial snowcoaches a day in the park. The most snowmobilers in the park on one day was 293, compared to 426 last year. The peak day for snowcoaches saw 59 in the park compared to 54 the previous season.
The park will operate under the temporary plan again for the 2010-2011 winter.
Public scoping has just concluded on a new winter use plan and environmental impact statement. A draft is expected to be released a year from now, with a final plan in place for the 2011-2012 winter season. More information on the winter use plan is available at http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/winteruse.htm.