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Park Service chief says snowmobiles OK in parks

By MIKE STARK of the Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. - The head of the National Park Service said Saturday morning she believes snowmobiles can be used in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks without impairing natural resources.

Fran Maniella said the upper levels of the federal government, including Interior Secretary Gale Norton, are keeping a close eye on the snowmobile issue and support the recent direction the Park Service has taken.

The Park Service announced in June it will probably abandon an earlier plan to ban snowmobiles in the two parks in favor of allowing a limited number of "cleaner and quieter" sleds in the parks. Snowmobilers would also have to be part of a guided group or receive training about riding the machines in the parks.

Maniella emphasized a final decision hasn't been made yet, but she thinks allowing "environmentally friendly access" via snowmobiles is a viable approach.

"We'll make sure there's no impairment to the park," she said.

Maniella was in Cody as part of a regional trip through Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks. She toured the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center before making a few remarks.

A scheduling snafu and a last-minute change in the time of Maniella's speech caught members of the media and the public off-guard. Her speech was scheduled for 11 a.m. but around 10:30 a.m., according to museum staffers, Maniella's handlers said she needed to leave the building at 11, so the speech started immediately.

Even Robert Shimp, the museum's director, caught only the last few minutes of Maniella's speech because he thought it started at 11.

Hoping the smooth the waters a little, Maniella spent a few minutes with the press after her talk.

She was asked why the Park Service was planning on allowing snowmobiles when more than 80 percent of the 350,000 comments received on the issue this spring were in favor of a ban.

Maniella said the Park Service doesn't just look at the number of comments received because many of them are just form letters.

"We're trying to look at the substantive comments," she said.

Many people who sent in comments from outside the region may also have the misconception that snowmobiles are allowed anywhere in the park, not just the roads.

She said that although many of the details haven't been worked out, the emphasis on limited snowmobiles, utilization of snowcoaches and more efficient sleds is a good step.

"Some of that technology has changed in just the last year," she said.

Maniella also said she's looking forward to getting more money for Yellowstone National Park, especially for dealing with the huge backlog of maintenance projects.

She praised President Bush's willingness to pay for such unglamorous park items as sewage treatment system upgrades "because that's not very exciting."

That's the kind of work, though, that visitors don't usually notice. "But they do see it when it's not working right," Maniella said.

Aside from taking care of the backlog of maintenance projects, Maniella said she wants to see the Park Service take a more proactive approach "with an emphasis on preventative maintenance."

Funding for Yellowstone may also have to increase to deal with snowmobiling and other winter use issues, she said.

Maniella said she hopes to see more partnerships between national parks, other agencies and the communities around them. She said she doesn't want to have major decisions without first talking with local communities, "not at them."

Gateway communities like Cody should have an increased role in the decision-making process, Maniella said. Even if the communities disagree with the Park Service, there should still be productive exchanges between them, she said.
 

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Sounds like a good step in the right direction to me. I bet that the Greenies are feeling a little green now!

Caleb
 

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So Performancex, did you think Janet Reno was a hottie?
 
 
 
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