Proposed regulation will curtail snowmobile use

Published June 1, 2001

The National Park Service’s proposal to close Rocky Mountain National Park to snowmobiles except for a two-mile stretch of the North Supply Creek Access Trail is unjustified, according to a public interest comment submitted to the agency by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Currently, snowmobile use is limited to 18 linear miles out of the 414 square miles of the Park. The Park Service suggests further reducing snowmobile use to two miles is required by Executive Orders 11644 and 11989, which state that recreational snowmobile use should be disallowed within a national park if it causes adverse effects on park resources.

“The proposal actually ignores an important part of Executive Order 11644, however, which requires agencies to minimize conflicts among all users of public lands,” said Randy T. Simmons, a professor at Utah State University and the author of the comment on behalf of the Mercatus Center’s Regulatory Studies Program.

“The proposal minimizes conflicts by simply outlawing one use–that of snowmobiles. Furthermore, the National Park Service doesn’t provide any peer-reviewed data to support the claim that snowmobile use harms the environmental, cultural, or historic resources of Rocky Mountain National Park.”

Simmons points out that sharply curtailing snowmobile use violates the park’s Organic Act, which states the park was created “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States . . . with regulations being primarily aimed at the freest use of said park for recreation purposes by the public and for the preservation of the natural conditions and scenic beauties.”

“Over 4,000 snowmobilers currently use the Park each year, yet the National Park Service has based its ban on the benefits to non-motorized park recreationists, without considering the lost recreational value to snowmobilers,” observed Susan E. Dudley, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center. “Professor Simmons has identified several options for addressing the conflicts between different users that do not involve simply assuming one user’s values are superior to another’s.”

The comment suggests several alternatives to the Park Service’s prohibition, including designated no-motorized-noise days and charging different prices for different recreational uses. Dudley recommends those alternatives be considered in addressing all current and future proposals to amend snowmobile regulations in national parks around the country.

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The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is an education, research, and outreach program that works with scholars, policy experts, and government officials to bridge academic theory and real-world practice. For more information, visit the group’s Web site at