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Mont. Town Treads Carefully Around Snowmobile Limit

The Nation

Curfew: The machines are good for business but bad for sleep. West Yellowstone seeks balance by the ballot.

November 04, 2001|From Associated Press

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — For Gibson Bailey, colder weather signals the approach of snowmobile season--and sleepless nights that come with the roaring machines.

"I look at my watch at 2, 4 o'clock in the morning and wonder, 'Why?' " he said.

Bailey is among those supporting late-night restrictions on snowmobiles in town. But others in this community just outside Yellowstone National Park are on the other side of the issue.

Tuesday, voters will decide whether to adopt a snowmobile curfew from 11:15 p.m. to 5:45 a.m., with exceptions for travel for work or medical emergencies.

"It's a way to support the attitude that we have in West Yellowstone that snowmobilers are welcome here," said local businessman Clyde Seely, who sees no need for the curfew. "And, of course, the industry as well, because there seems to be a move on to thwart, or stop, snowmobiling across the board."

The National Park Service decided last year to phase out snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks over three winters. The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Assn. sued and settled when the Park Service agreed to reconsider the issue.

Some business operators say another restriction on snowmobiles could send the wrong message to snowmobile riders. To some, a vote for the curfew is seen as a vote against the very people who keep this small town busy all winter.

"Cars run stop signs. Do we ban cars from the streets?" asked Brad Schmier, who works at Yellowstone Adventures, which rents and sells snowmobiles.

He fears the curfew will come off as an unfriendly gesture.

"If you create too many hoops for them to go through, they will go somewhere else," he said.

Jeff Kurtz, who works at a motel and is president of the chamber of commerce, said he's never had any complaints from guests about night-riding snowmobilers and doesn't believe more regulation is necessary.

But among curfew supporters, an argument is made that imposing a reasonable restriction on snowmobiles also is a sign of willingness to diversify the winter economy here, allowing for snowmobile use but also reaching out more to such interests as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

"We have some obligations here, being next to Yellowstone National Park, to oblige the American public, and I don't think we are," said Bailey, also a town council candidate whose name is on Tuesday's ballot. Scott Carsley, who runs a guide business, said his concerns lie with customers who complain about noise at night.

Mayor Jerry Johnson said he fears the issue of whether streets are too noisy could be blown out of proportion by either side.

"If it does pass, I can see people using this against the industry. That's a terrible thing. That's not what this is about," Johnson said. "But again, snowmobile supporters could use it to say people want snowmobiles. And again, that's not the issue."

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