Stuck With Snowmobiles…Or Are We?

Imagine this:

You and your best friend, after having saved your pennies for months on end and juggled your schedules until you could find mutual time off, have arrived at the entrance to one of our country’s most beautiful parks. Sure, with the snowmobile ban having recently been blocked, you can hear a faint buzz in the background but you’re positive that your eagerness to snowshoe the trails of Yellowstone will far outweigh the annoying, inescapable, mosquito-like hum.

As soon as the two of you reach your room, you scarcely unpack or waste time to use the facilities as excitement propels you from the warmth of the lodge and out to the trails. With snowshoes strapped to your feet, you quickly forge your way to the miles of trails long dreamt about prior to your arrival. Then, after about an hour breathing the slightly exhaust-tinged air and laughing in glee at the beauty around you, from out of nowhere zooms a loud machine, a metal monster on skis, flying across the trail before you.

Luckily, you and your friend had stopped to drink some hot chocolate, thus missing having your hair shaved that much shorter by the snowmobile barreling through the park with no regard for anyone else. You and your friend yell at the driver to slow down, only to have a middle finger flashed back at you for your efforts. Making certain the trail is clear of other snowmobilers, the two of you continue on your snowshoeing trek, shaking a bit at your close call but still determined to enjoy your outing.

Several minutes later, however, you encounter the same finger-brandishing, death-defying snowmobile driver, only now he is trying to pull his machine out of the rut into which he drove it with his reckless speeding. Here you are, miles from the nearest shelter and facing the man who almost plowed his snowmobile into you, only now he’s at your mercy as he obviously is stuck and has no immediate means of easily reaching civilization. Being decent hearted people, there is no decision to make. You and your friend help the man, snowshoeing out to get him some help before he freezes to death in the brittle winter temperatures.

While snowshoers and other winter sports enthusiasts have no choice but to share the trails of Yellowstone this winter with snowmobilers, perhaps it’s time to educate them about the benefits and the joys of our sport in addition to pointing out the potential hazards of allowing unrestricted snowmobile access to this park and others. Instead of viewing the ban as a complete travesty of justice, we can use this opportunity to broaden communication between these two groups and create a more harmonious world for all of us to live in. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But we don’t seem to have much choice in the matter this season, judging by the recent legal decisions set upon us from the powers that currently be.

This is a wonderful idea, you might be saying, but how do we start to open the lines of communication and education to a group that has only recently been a huge foe of snowshoers? One step at a time is my answer. Using my story of the snowshoeing buddies as an example, think of how often such a scenario might actually happen. For those of you who might encounter a person trying to repair his or her snowmobile on the spot, why not take a moment to show them your snowshoes and explain the advantages to using them, how portable they are and how nicely they would fit somewhere on a snowmobile.

It would be an ideal time to introduce snowmobilers to our equipment, giving them a chance to one day try using snowshoes to hike out after their machine has broken or run aground. I truly believe that first hand experience in this type of sport is an excellent way to convert the otherwise adamantly opposed. At the very least, if we send help after them, they will hopefully not view us as the enemy trying to crush their sport
such as it may be.

Opening the lines of communication and erasing the spots of ignorance might be as simple as demonstrating the uses of snowshoes or as drastic as staging large gatherings at the entrances to parks or in other places frequented by snowmobilers. If we can’t reach them on a personal level, then mass numbers of concerned citizens plopped in front of the local hang-out might at least introduce some people to the idea that there are better, less polluting, less damaging ways to practice the activity of snowmobiling.

These people won’t listen to us, you say. They never have and never will. And in many cases, you may be right. That’s the way with humans the world round, but if we can reach just one person, then the stage will be set for others to learn about the benefits of our sport and the potential dangers which snowmobiling poses for wildlife, human health, and the environment.

So, instead of viewing the recent decision to allow snowmobile access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with gloom and deep despair, consider it a stepping point to bridge the gap between snowshoers and snowmobilers and teach them what most of us already seem to know.
Perhaps while we wait to for either a new administration to come along in four years or for the legal bench to decide to protect the environment, we can start the process rolling where it counts most among the citizens of this country.

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Alyssa Skye Collins