By Associated Press
Jackson, Wyo. - Wyoming's congressional delegation is reiterating its support for keeping the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park open to snowmobiles and other winter users, despite the cost of avalanche control on Sylvan Pass and low visitor numbers.
Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, all Republicans, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide recently that keeping the entrance open is good for Cody's economy.
Park officials said 446 visitors used the east entrance from Dec. 22 through March 1, compared with 463 during the same period last year.
No snow coach service was offered through the east entrance this season. Park officials said no companies submitted a proposal after the prospectus was offered.
Park officials estimated that avalanche control on Sylvan Pass costs about $325,000 annually.
Mark Pearson of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition said that's too expensive for the low number of visitors.
"It's a head-scratcher how you can justify spending $300,000 for a few hundred visitors" at a time of shrinking budgets, he said.
Bill Wade of the Coalition of National Park Service retirees said the money could be better spent.
"It defies my imagination that it costs so much to keep that pass open for so few people," he said.
Park officials wanted to close the east entrance to winter travel in 2007, citing the cost and the danger to park employees. A ranger was killed in 1994 when he drove his snowmobile off the side of a road in a whiteout while patrolling Sylvan Pass.
After Cody residents and Wyoming politicians objected to the planned closure, park officials met with city and state officials and came up with a plan to keep it open.
Barrasso said the state has contributed resources to keep the route open.
Lummis said groups that cite costs as reason for closing the route have other motives.
"For those groups whose sole purpose is the politically motivated limitation of access to our nation's first national park, cost is simply the excuse du jour," she said in a written statement. "These groups either do not realize, or do not care that the real costs are on the working families and local businesses that rely on open access to Sylvan Pass for their livelihoods."
A written release from Enzi's spokeswoman, Elly Pickett, said uncertainty about whether winter use will still be permitted in the park has kept traffic low at the east entrance.
"A systematic dismantling of winter use in Yellowstone and the uncertainty that goes with it causes fewer visitors, which in turn the Park Service uses to justify further restrictions," Pickett said.