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YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - Interior Secretary Gale Norton got a firsthand look Tuesday at a plan allowing continued snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park, cruising snowy roads on a guided tour and declaring it a "great way to be able to see the landscape."

Norton also took in the scenery near Old Faithful from a snowcoach, saying both it and snowmobiles were good options for seeing the park. She said the snowcoach - a passenger van on tracks - was "not as special as snowmobiling," but "a much more ordinary way to see things."

During her snowmobile trek, Norton photographed snow-encrusted bison and took in the view of the Firehole River and curdling smoke of thermal features.

"It's more comfortable than I expected," she said after a trip that ended at Old Faithful, where she was to spend the night at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge.

Norton said she was also pleased to see wildlife, particularly bison, appeared unbothered by snowmobile riders. She noted that during a snowmobile outing Monday, only one bison in a small group paid her any notice.

Concerns have been raised by some conservationists about snowmobile riders harassing wildlife.

Norton said guides, required for trips into the park, seem to be ensuring riders use reasonable speeds. Snowmobilers rode in single file, on one side of the road, and avoided bison in areas where they were near or on the road.

But she said she's also interested in self-guided trips, which she believes would allow visitors more chances to stop for the sights. Currently, snowmobiles in Yellowstone must be commercially guided.

Park Service officials are working on a long-term plan for winter use that will look at snowmobile and snowcoach use.

The National Park Service is planning to allow up to 720 guided snowmobiles a day into Yellowstone and 140 snowmobiles, with no guiding requirement, in nearby Grand Teton National Park, and on the parkway connecting them, through the winter of 2006-07.

ON THE NET

http://www.nps.gov/yell/
 
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