Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why so few Yellowstone hikers?

I have heard and read various groups lamenting that so few visitors to Yellowstone ever get away from the roads and boardwalks. Some discuss ways that more visitors could be motivated to hike. I've begun to wonder though if that is what the Park sevice wants or is good for the Park. Unlike some other Parks, such as Glacier and Grand Teton, the main Yellowstone map does not show hiking trails. The few times I've asked about trails in Yellowstone, the rangers have not seemed to be very informed or up to date. I've also met rangers on the trail more times in Glacier than in Yellowstone, even though I've hiked about 10 times as much in Yellowstone as Glacier. I also note YNP does not maintain many trails well, bridges are not replaced and trail markers lay on the ground on many trails. I wonder if the Yellowstone Park service prefers to not discourage but not really encourage unsupervised hiking. More hikers, especially inexperienced hikers, would have more accidents, get lost (see here), and cause more wildlife incidents. All of these would be expensive and difficult to manage, better that fewer of the nearly 3 million visitors actually explore away from the road, Yellowstone in particular needs to maintain a balance between preserving the environment, protecting animals, and accommodating visitors.

On a personal basis, I know I like the trails that are used less often, some days I don't see another hiker although I don't avoid the more used trails. I like seeing animals and crowds of hikers or horsemen probably reduce chances of seeing rarer animals. Locally, in Mt. Rainer Park, I've hiked trails that were so popular I was rarely out of sight and never our of hearing of other hikers. Other local trails may have a line up waiting to sign in and be badly eroded from overuse. I know that Glacier and Grand Teton manage to accommodate more hikers without too many problems but it may be that the majority of Yellowstone visitors really want to do other things than hike and that may be one means of protecting the Park.

I have no inside knowledge, this is all speculation on my part.

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