Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Parks May Open to Paddling, Stirring Debate 

click to enlarge Yellowstone River - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
  • National Park Service
  • Yellowstone River
Oct. 8, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted 23 to 15 to allow kayaks, rafts and other "hand-propelled" vessels to be used on rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Such a measure would open up hundreds of miles of waterways through the two parks, which have been closed to paddlers for decades, the Missoulian reports.

The Yellowstone and Grand Teton Paddling Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and gained enough support to travel to the full House. 

The vote has caused quite a stir among paddlers and conservation groups, however. The National Parks Conservation Association released a statement claiming the bill doesn't "hit the high water mark."

The statement, written by NPCA Grand Teton Manager Sharon Mader, said the bill "could have far reaching negative impacts on two of our country's most iconic national parks. ... The bill fails to address longstanding concerns raised by conservationists, visitors, the National Park Service, and other key stakeholders." 

The language of the bill includes an analysis of 6,500 miles of rivers. Mader's statement points out that's "three and a half times the length of the entire Mississippi River." A last-minute amendment passed by the committee would allow park visitors to float 450 miles of rivers and streams without a study, according to the Washington Post

The NPCA statement said the organization is supportive of boating and paddling opportunities in the national parks, and boaters have access to 163 of 168 lakes in Yellowstone alone. Another 60,000 paddlers float the 26-mile stretch of the Snake River in Grand Teton National park every year. The NPCA doesn't want to see access widen, though.

Area boaters, on the other hand, are excited to explore more of the national parks' waterways. Clinton Begley, who worked as the outreach coordinator for the Watershed Education Network in Missoula, Mont., before taking a job with the Long Tom Watershed Council in Eugene, Ore., is an avid paddler and doesn't see boating access leading to the degradation the NCPA anticipates.

"The prohibition of whitewater paddling in Yellowstone is arbitrary and capricious and should never have happened," Begley said. "Anglers and conservation folks have long pointed to kayak plastic being smeared on rocks, and portage/scout paths impacting riparian areas and the potential scenic/wilderness character and the associated environmental impacts. But surely balls of fishing line, hooks left in fish mouths from poorly tied knots, yellow globs of powerbait everywhere and fishermen meandering along the entire bank have not seen the same concern. It's a double standard."

He pointed out that paddling is allowed throughout Glacier National Park as well as Yosemite, which relies on a permit process to limit impact on waterways.

Lummis has proposed a bill to lift restrictions on watercraft in the two parks before. Last year, it made it through the full House, but died in the Senate.

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